Outright Libertarians, the GLBTQ caucus of the Libertarian Party, along with libertarian activists in San Francisco and other cities, is organizing a virtual torch parade to support private first class Bradley Manning, the U.S. government soldier being prosecuted for passing hundreds of thousands of secret documents, including video evidence of war crimes being committed by members of the U.S. government’s military, to the transparency website WikiLeaks run by Julian Assange, who remains a refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
“(The) torch will be carried, Olympian style, across the country, through freedom rallies in major cities along the way, just in time to be carried across the bridge into DC with Adam Kokesh on July 4th,” stated Outright secretary Mike Shipley in a description of the quickly-evolving plan published several days ago on Outright’s website. (Kokesh, an Iraq war veteran, freedom activist and host of the TV show “Adam vs. The Man” who has run for Congress, is organizing an “Open Carry March On Washington” for Independence Day.)
Outright board member Dan Choi, a first lieutenant in the National Guard who also fought in Iraq and was discharged under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” after he came out as gay in 2009, stated in a press release from the group that justice requires having the truth, and that Bradley Manning served this cause. “What he did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him.”
The event will start with a torch-lighting ceremony in San Francisco after Bradley Manning supporters march in the annual gay San Francisco Pride Parade happening June 30, which typically attracts over a million people, participation by local politicians, and major news coverage.
Supporters of the incarcerated young private who exposed U.S. government war crimes, including members of the Libertarian Party of San Francisco, have marched in Pride parades before:
This year however, promises to be different. The atmosphere leading up to the Pride weekend that culminates in a huge parade down Market Street has been fraught with tension since late April, when a major controversy surfaced around whether the 25-year-old gay army private would be honored as a a Grand Marshal of this year’s parade.
During the past two weeks, SF Pride’s offices have been twice besieged by hundreds of supporters of Bradley Manning upset with the board of the Pride organization’s cowardice and hypocrisy in first listing the WikiLeaks whistleblower on a list of four nominees to serve (in absentia, since he’s still in jail) as one of the Grand Marshals of this year’s parade and announcing after a vote by their “electoral college” of former Grand Marshals that he was selected, and then a short time later retracting that announcement, claiming it was an “error” and that the person responsible for the announcement had been “disciplined”.
What actually appears to be the case is that the leadership of SF Pride capitulated in the face of criticism by some former military personnel opposed to honoring Manning, most notably one gay man who was reported to be fearful that the recognition could jeopardize his campaign to get the U.S. military to allow GLBTQ service members to march in uniform in Gay Pride parades, and are now trying to cover their butts.
As Dan Choi’s views illustrate, that decision certainly did not represent the views of all GLBTQ service members. American Legion Post 315 in San Francisco has demanded that Williams resign, with post Commander John Caldera calling the group’s reaction to the Pride president’s anti-Manning statement “a swift and appropriate response to the disappointing and discrediting actions of the President of San Francisco Pride against the LGBT community.”
On April 29, over 100 Bradley Manning supporters including Caldera and other veterans protested outside SF Pride’s offices. Bisexual Libertarian National Committee member and local activist and sex worker Starchild spoke at the event along with Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower who was the Bradley Manning of his day back in the 1970s, several former Pride parade Grand Marshals, and other local activists. Here is video of Starchild speaking at that rally:
Gary Virginia, an SF Pride Grand Marshal in 2012 and one of those who voted for Bradley Manning to be honored, informed rally attendees that he’d been told in confidence by someone inside the organization that Manning had received the most votes of all the nominees. But neither he nor other former grand marshals including Joey Cain, the former SF Pride president who nominated the young gay man for the honor, knew the details of the vote, which have so far been kept secret. Cain said he’d been told Manning was selected, but then had the reversal sprung on him without a clear rationale being given. He said board members wouldn’t even return his phone calls.
“They say Court Martial, we say Grand Marshal!” chanted protesters, many of them holding signs and wearing stickers in support of Manning, as two large banners for the incarcerated whistleblower flapped in the breeze.
A day later, the Bay Area Reporter, a leading GLBTQ community newspaper in San Francisco, published an editorial calling on the board to uphold Bradley Manning’s selection. But the Pride board still refused to rescind the retraction and honor its original announcement naming him as a Grand Marshal.
“Even the hint of support” for Bradley Manning “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride” while he is on trial, said SF Pride board president Lisa Williams in that statement. Williams, it turns out, has ties to the administration that is prosecuting Manning after keeping the Army private in jail without trial or due process for over 1,000 days, having organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign. She is also the president and owner of One Source Consulting, a political consulting firm identified with Democratic Party politics according to multiple sources.
So Bradley Manning supporters showed up again last Tuesday, May 7, to attend the public meeting of the SF Pride board and speak during public comment. That meeting — or to be more accurate lack of a meeting — turned into a fiasco, as reported by the B.A.R. and written up for Outright by Starchild .
The Pride board kept members of the public waiting on the street outside their offices for nearly two hours, only to finally announce that the meeting was cancelled, after two abortive starts during which a handful of Bradley Manning supporters were allowed to give public comment for only 60 seconds each as Williams and other members of the board sat impassively. They refused to either allow a cameraperson from KTVU Channel 2, which broadcast the story that evening, into the meeting, or to adjourn to a larger meeting room that could accommodate more members of the public. When Starchild, one of the activists who made it into the building and was allowed to give public comment, shouted out the window of the 4th floor office to supporters on the street below that the board was trying to keep cameras and the press out, he was physically grabbed by a Pride security officer who attempted to escort him out of the room, to the dismay of Daniel Ellsberg and other Manning supporters present.
In the end, Starchild was allowed to remain until he and nine others including Ellsberg, Virginia, Cain, sex educator and former Grand Marshal Carol Queen, Rainey Reitman of the Bradley Manning Support Network and others had given public comment, at which point the members of the public present were asked to leave in order to make room for the next group to be allowed in to testify. Once outside and downstairs however, after watching Ellsberg interviewed on the sidewalk by a TV news crew, Starchild was informed that Pride officials had not allowed anyone else in to speak, and were claiming the elevator was broken. “That pathetic lie was probably a low point for them,” Starchild said. “I think the whole thing of asking us to leave and make space in the meeting room was just a ploy to get everybody out of the building. There was another entrance with stairs around front, and they weren’t allowing anyone up that way either.”
A subsequent confrontation on those stairs ended in the police being called and the executive director of SF Pride, Earl Plante, claiming he had been assaulted and demanding the arrest of the activist he said was responsible, who by the time the police arrived apparently could not be located. A police officer told Starchild that the person who called them had claimed that “200 people were rioting in the street”, which he seemed to acknowledge was a gross fabrication (by that point there were no more than a score of people hanging around calmly on the sidewalk, and whatever minor pushing may have occurred had taken place inside the building, not out in the street).
“Bradley Manning is now the Grand Marshal of something much bigger,” said San Francisco area libertarian activist and Seasteading Institute ambassador John Bechtol, who is helping organize the virtual torch parade. “It doesn’t matter what the board does now. Even their misconduct will serve as a galvanizing force.”
Torch parade organizers in Seattle, Phoenix, and Washington D.C. have already been secured, and outreach efforts are underway to activists in St. Louis, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Miami, and elsewhere. Overseas Bradley Manning supporters in places like the UK, Germany, and Australia may also get involved in the event, Bechtol said.
Other libertarians involved along with Shipley, Bechtol and Starchild in organizing the torch parade include former Libertarian National Committee member and Outright Libertarians chair Angela Keaton, and radio host and former candidate for Libertarian Party national chair Ernest Hancock, famous in Ron Paul circles for popularizing the “r3VOLution” meme used heavily in the libertarian Republican’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
Organizers are calling on libertarians and others across the country and around the world who value government transparency and accountability to join in by holding torch ceremonies in cities where they live and videotaping them for YouTube. Activists wishing to get involved with the effort should contact Outright Libertarians .
If you want to do a little direct activism from home, you can also call and/or write the SF Pride offices and tell them you want them to reinstate Bradley Manning as Grand Marshal for this year’s SF Pride Parade. Their number is (415) 864-0831, and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The receptionist who usually answers their phones is nice, so don’t be too hard on her but by all means do make your feelings clear, and if you’re GLBTQ or involved with the community, let them know that. Doesn’t hurt to mention the LP either of course!
Those wishing to go the extra mile are urged to contact the Pride parade organizers where you live, fill them in about Bradley Manning and the parade controversy if they haven’t already heard, and ask that they honor him in their own local Pride parades in solidarity with freedom supporters in San Francisco. Here is a list of dates and locations for Pride events in the United States and around the world.
Bradley Manning’s trial proceedings, in which there have already been multiple hearings, is scheduled to resume May 21, and there is a big rally for him on June 1 at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the trial is taking place. The date set for the actual court martial itself is June 3. But regardless of the outcome, Manning is clearly already seen by many in the GLBTQ community as a gay hero, not a criminal. In the words of another chant from the Pride protests…
“Blowing the Whistle on War Crimes Is Not A Crime!”