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marching for PFC Bradley Manning at SF Pride
by Daniel Borgström
Monday Jul 15th, 2013 12:08 AM
honoring whistleblower Bradley Manning at the SF Gay Pride event of June 30

"They say court-martial. We say Parade Marshal!"

by Daniel Borgström

A couple of months before San Francisco's annual Gay Pride event, the following statement appeared:

"Bradley Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year's San Francisco Pride celebration. His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen. A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations within the SF Pride organization. That was an error and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at that time, speak for SF Pride."

The statement, signed "Lisa L. Williams, SF Pride Board President," claimed to speak not only for the gay community, but for military veterans as well, saying that support for whistleblower Manning "would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country."

I had never been to the San Francisco Gay Pride event before, but this year, being blown away by Lisa Williams' extreme statement, and being an ex-Marine myself, I really wanted to march in support of whistleblower Bradley Manning and protest the shabby treatment he got from the parade committee. The committee had initially named him Parade Marshal, then suddenly withdrew the honor. The reason for the about-face was not hard to discover-- a glance at SF Pride's website showed that the sponsors of this parade were the 1% of the 1%, the very same corporations which have been buying up politicians and everything else, including parades.

While many people see PFC Bradley Manning as a hero, it's quite understandable that the corporations or anyone wishing to toady up to them were less willing to honor him. He's the soldier who gave WikiLeaks a trove of info, including a video of a US Army helicopter shooting Iraqi civilians -- the infamous "Collateral Murder" video. Those revelations embarrassed the US military and foreign policy establishment; the army jailed him and was now, at the time of this parade, court-martialing him.

So this seemed a good time and place to show up in support of PFC Manning. A coalition organized a Bradley Manning contingent to march in it. Groups and organizations were endorsing it, and people were sending out invitations on Facebook and urging each other to attend.

Finally, the day came -- Sunday, June 30th. There were about 250 units in this parade. The staging area for ours was a couple blocks south of Market street, and instructions were to be there at 11 o'clock. I took BART as always when going to San Francisco, but the trains were full like I'd rarely seen them. People were packed in tightly and still there wasn't room for all, many were left on the platform to wait for a later train. When I got off at the Embarcadero station and emerged onto Market street, the parade was already going. Already?

People were everywhere, huge crowds. Hurrying as best I could, I made my way to Beale and then up the street towards our staging area, working my way through the densely packed crowd. It was like the lobby of a crowded theater, block after block. "Hi Daniel!" I turned and saw Elle Queue, a comrade from Occupy Oakland. So, maybe we'd both be late. Would our contingent have moved out by the time we got there? Could we find it? Could we somehow catch up?

Not to worry. Our contingent was still at the staging area, with no sign of moving anytime soon--we were unit #179. Beale street was reasonably wide, but people were packed in, hard to tell how many. The Brass Liberation Orchestra (BLO) was there, playing and some people were dancing. I helped pass out "Free Bradley Manning" stickers. They were about two inches in diameter and came in two colors, orange or pink. People were pasting them on their shirts and hats and handbags. I had about three stickers on my T-shirt.

Along with the stickers were posters and banners of all sizes, saying "Free Bradley Manning." His photo was on many of these. A huge banner stretching the entire width of the street, read: "Pride in our whistle-blower." Smaller ones read: "LGBT! Bradley Manning leaks for me!" and "Bradley Manning: America's moral compass." My favorite read "They say court-martial. We say Parade Marshal."

Our contingent was a diverse assortment of people, some from veterans groups, some from gay groups, others from various Occupy groups. Most were young, but there were many elders too. There was a trolley car-like bus for the elderly and disabled. On it were several who'd been lifelong activists. Pat Maginnis from the Lake Merritt peace walk. Jean Pauline a KPFA activist, and Harry Siitonen, a WW II veteran from Veterans for Peace.

In addition to the majority who were normally clothed, there were three young guys, bouncing around completely naked. Well, that's the kind of parade we were in.

"Mic check!" someone called out. "Mic check!" we echoed back, and it was announced that someone had resigned from the Pride committee over the bad treatment of Bradley Manning. There was a round of applause.

The announcement was brief, and the waiting continued. Among the many whom I didn't know, I ran into a few that I did know. Events like this are a reunion. Catherine who'd set up my website for me. Brian with whom I'd shared a jail cell when the OPD had mass arrested 400 of us. There was a lot to talk about, but it wasn't easy to hear, with the Brass Liberation Orchestra playing and more distant bands as well.

A woman asked if she could have her picture taken with me. I wondered why but of course assented. Then she thanked me for my good work and said she'd been following what I'd been doing for 40 years. Having been introduced to her as Daniel, I realized that she had mistaken me for Daniel Ellsberg, who was present, though i didn't see him. I smiled, shook my head. "I am Daniel," I said, "and I am an ex-marine. But I'm not Ellsberg."

Waiting, talking, listening to our band, watching young people dance. They seemed to have boundless energy. Had I ever been that full of energy? Years ago, maybe. but no longer. I sat down on the asphalt street, as did many others. Still waiting. Forenoon became noon. Then afternoon. One o'clock became two o'clock. The hot sun slowly moved its way across the sky, finally slipping behind some tall buildings which began to cast growing shadows on the street, giving relief from its burning rays. Three hours had passed, and we were still waiting.

People started getting up. We were moving. It was about 2:05 p.m. Slowly, slowly we inched down Beale and then at last we were on Market street, a truly broad street which our contingent still managed to fill curb to curb. All around were our banners. The one reading "Pride in our whistle-blower" was so long it had to be carried by twenty people. Others, with Manning's photo on tall, pole-like flag-banners seemed to fill the air around me. Somewhere up ahead the Brass Liberation Orchestra was playing.

"Free Bradley Manning!" we chanted. "Free Bradley Manning!"

"They say Court-Martial. We say Parade Marshal!."

Huge throngs of onlookers. Even after all these hours the streets were still thickly lined with spectators. They looked weary, but were intently watching. Many of them were wearing pink or orange "Free Bradley Manning" stickers.

Ours was probably the largest of the Manning contingents. Others had gone by earlier, and had presumably passed out the stickers that many spectators were wearing. According to some reports there were 1,000 marchers in support of Manning; other reports put the number at over 2,000. However many of us there were, we were far outnumbered by the crowds wearing the orange and pink Manning stickers.

As I marched along, it almost felt like Bradley Manning Day.

daniel41 ( )