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Surprised that more people aren’t outraged by this…

August 22, 2013, 9:15 PM

Yesterday evening, I attended an event described on Facebook as “Emergency Protest of Whistleblower Bradley Manning’s Sentencing”.  For those not familiar, Manning (now Chelsea Manning) is a former US Army soldier who, according to Wikipedia, “was convicted in July 2013 of several violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after releasing the largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison and dishonorably discharged.”

I really don’t understand why more people aren’t outraged by this.  This is your government and mine, and it operates, at least in theory, by the consent of the governed.  That requires an informed public, and people are all too willing to allow their government to harbor secrets about human rights abuses and other vile acts done in our name.  Government should have very few secrets, if any, because the best disinfectant for government is sunshine and transparency.  The government, out of anyone, is the entity that should have “nothing to hide”, because it is funded by our taxes, and therefore we are all stakeholders with an interest in its activities that are being done in all of our names.  Thus why it really concerns me that people are more up in arms about the fact that material was leaked and about the person who blew the whistle vs. the content of what was leaked.  People really should be more up in arms about what their government is doing in their name, and about protecting the messenger – not shooting the messenger.

That said, Manning should be held up as a hero and walking free rather than imprisoned.  And thus the message of this demonstration was simple: Free Bradley Manning.

I’m guessing that we had around 100 people, and that’s probably on the generous end of things.  As far as signage went, organizers made a backdrop of a large Statue of Liberty street puppet, a similarly large street puppet of Manning, and many signs:

The backdrop of the Bradley Manning demonstration, with the White House in the distance.

These two street puppets were later joined by a third of a figure representing justice.

I also got photos of individual demonstrators’ signs:

Wearing "Free Bradley Manning" stickers all over her face.

"Manning, 35 years.  Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Addington, Rumsfeld, Bybee: 0 years.  It should be the other way around."

"Once again abuse of power"

"Americans have the right to know"

There was also a group of three women wearing Guy Fawkes masks.  I have to say that after three years of Anonymous raids, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Guy Fawkes mask.  I had fun photographing them, and after getting some photos of their signs, I tried to get something striking using the masks.

Straight-on view- specifically to get the signs.
Straight-on view- specifically to get the signs.

Side view of the three women with their masks.  This was an attempt at "striking", but too distant.
Side view of the three women with their masks.  This was an attempt at “striking”, but too distant.

Trying again with a "striking" image, but I don't believe that it worked as well as I liked.  I was going for Photo Feature quality with this one, but even with heavy retouching, it's not going to make the cut, unfortunately.
Trying again with a “striking” image, but I don’t believe that it worked as well as I liked.  I was going for Photo Feature quality with this one, but even with heavy retouching, it’s not going to make the cut, unfortunately.

The demonstration continued as the sky got darker due in part to the evening’s continuing on, and partly due to a storm gathering to our south:

Note the clouds gathering behind the White House.  We occasionally saw lightning coming from these clouds, which, considering the open area we were standing in, was enough to make me a little nervous.
Note the clouds gathering behind the White House.  We occasionally saw lightning coming from these clouds, which, considering the open area we were standing in, was enough to make me a little nervous.

David Barrows speaks as the demonstration continues.
David Barrows speaks as the demonstration continues.

It's now completely dark, and the Justice puppet has joined the demonstration.
It’s now completely dark, and the Justice puppet has joined the demonstration.

At 8:30, the demonstration turned into a march, with Dupont Circle as a destination.  The storm finally made its presence felt, going from an ominous presence and a cool breeze to rain.  No lightning, thankfully, but tons of rain.  By this time, Elissar, a friend and former coworker of mine, had joined the demonstration.  We ended up doing the march together.  Elissar had resolved to do this protest as just a protester, admitting that trying to both be involved in the demonstration and photograph it meant that you didn’t do either very well.  I’m inclined to agree.  Since it was raining, I changed hats and did the march as just a protester as well, since the rain automatically put the Canon out of commission (I lost Big Mavica to rain, and I’ll be damned if I lose another camera to rain), and Duckie performs poorly in the dark unless it’s perfectly still.

The march route was perhaps the best march route I’ve seen for a demonstration in a long time.  The march went north on 15th Street until we got to K Street, cut over to 14th Street, went north through Thomas Circle and up to P Street, turned west on P Street, going past Whole Foods and my old office building, turned north on 17th, then went west on R Street until reaching Connecticut Avenue (going past the Fraser Mansion), and then finally turning south on Connecticut Avenue and reaching Dupont Circle.

Map of the march route.  Note that rather than take the typical march route up Connecticut Avenue through an empty business district, we went through the neighborhoods!
Image: Google Maps
Map of the march route. Click the image for a more detailed view.

So yes – we went through neighborhoods.  The reason that this was so awesome was because with this sort of issue, where people aren’t mad but need to be, we need to get people to think about it more often.  And Elissar and I noticed that as we went along, people stopped to watch.  Protest marches don’t often go this far north, and so this was something unusual for these areas.  Usually, if a protest goes as far north as P Street, it’s just in the immediate vicinity of Dupont Circle and then heads south, or comes from south and arrives in Dupont Circle.

Arriving in Dupont Circle, it was still raining, though not as much as earlier.  I got a photo of Elissar with her protest sign:

Elissar with her protest sign

Then I got a couple of photos of the crowd in Dupont:

The people on the fountain in Dupont Circle

The assembled crowd in Dupont Circle

And then Elissar and I headed towards the Metro.  After all, it was raining and it was late.  My friend Pete, who really pulled this one together, told me later that the event only lasted about another five minutes or so after we left, so we didn’t miss much.

I think the biggest thing to take home from this demonstration is that whistleblowers are very vulnerable in our country, and we need stronger protections to prevent their being prosecuted.  And the citizenry needs to get angry about the contents of leaked materials, rather than condemn the leaker.  What will it take for our country’s all-too-complacent attitude to shift?

Web site: "Rally and march demands pardon for Bradley Manning" on DC Indymedia about this demonstration

Postscript: By the way, did I mention that I am not a fan of doing handheld nighttime photography? My pictures never look that great under those sorts of conditions, and usually need heavy retouching as a result. I need to do a little research on how to get better photos in these sorts of conditions.

Categories: Activism, Washington DC