In her first interview since announcing a Senate run, Chelsea Manning discusses the long road to freedom, and why shes determined to seize her moment
A few weeks after Chelsea Manning was released from military prison, having served seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking official secrets, she came to a terrible realization. I was out, but I saw that while I had been away, the prison had moved out here as well. Thats how I feel. I feel like I havent left, weve just exchanged prisons.
That grim assessment, that even in freedom she was trapped within a prison, dawned on her as she walking one day through the streets of Brooklyn. The New York borough has a reputation for hipster cool, but she was shocked to see so many heavily armed police.
There was this immense police presence and they were militarized. Ive been part of an occupying force in a foreign country, and I know what that looks like. Thats what I saw in Brooklyn an occupying force.
Her powerful fear about what America has become in the seven years of her incarceration, combined with an equally powerful determination to do something about it lies behind Chelsea Mannings announcement this week that she is running for a US Senate seat.
Fear and determination you could say that has been her dual hallmark since she made the fateful decision in 2010 to leak a vast trove of 700,000 secret documents when she was working as an intelligence analyst at a US military base in Iraq.
In the first interview Manning, 30, has given since she posted details of her Senate bid on Twitter, the Guardian asked her whether she drew a straight line between becoming one of the most famous and most severely punished official leakers in US history and her political ambitions today. Its certainly not a direct line, she said. Its windy, a lot has happened. Im a very different person than I was 10 years ago.
But there are certainly parallels between the two events. It was an act of extreme courage some would, and did, say folly to download and transmit war logs, embassy cables, videos and Guantnamo files to WikiLeaks. It is an act of extreme courage some might, and are, saying folly to run for the US Senate.
Theres also a profound dichotomy to be found somewhere along that winding road between her May 2010 arrest and her new campaign: she wouldnt have the global platform she enjoys today were it not for the at times brutal treatment she received at the hands of the US military. How does she make sense of such opposites?
I havent made sense of it, she said. And I dont think there has to be an explanation. I learned very quickly that my experience in prison has shaped my understanding of the world.
We meet, appropriately on the first anniversary of President Obamas commutation of Mannings sentence, in her apartment outside Washington DC. It has a large living room that is full of light, but strangely empty and devoid of human touch, as though she had replicated, albeit more comfortably, the spartan aesthetic of a prison cell. The walls are almost bare besides prints of Oscar Wilde and anarchist Emma Goldman above the fireplace, and a copy of Mannings commutation letter.
She is dressed in black, as she was in the video launching the Senate campaign in which she carried a red rose as symbol of political resistance. In the bright light of the room, her eyes are piercingly blue-grey, topped by a slash of pink eye shadow. She wears a silver necklace with a hashtag pendant; asked why, she replies without hesitation: Twitter got me out of prison.
To say that Manning has taken on a tough job running for office in her home state of Maryland is an understatement. The incumbent in the 26 June Democratic primary, Ben Cardin, is a seasoned veteran going for a third term, the leading Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, with a large and loyal following of centrist voters.
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