Banned from entering Australia by the federal government, former United States intelligence analyst turned whistleblower Chelsea Manning instead delivered her message of hope to audiences in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane via video link.
The Australian immigration department denied Manning a visa on the basis of failing “the character test”, citing as grounds the time she spent in jail for leaking documents that exposed US war crimes in Iraq.
In response to the ban, more than 20,000 people signed a petition demanded Manning be allowed to enter the country.
At a September 7 meeting in Melbourne, Manning spoke about her life as a trans woman, soldier, whistleblower and prisoner. She also addressed US politics and data privacy issues.
“Finding out who I am and what I stand for has been a big part of my life,” said Manning.
“I’ve been homeless, I’ve been to war, I’ve been to prison … I’m only thirty years old, but I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in prison.”
On her time in jail, Manning said: “I want to emphasise this point: the most violent people in prison are the guards.
“You are in a constant struggle against the prison system itself. They are constantly trying to stir things up…
“My trans identity was weaponised against me: I was denied hormones and my identity was used as an excuse to keep me in solitary confinement for a long time”.
At the same time, Manning said she “was astounded by the humanity of other prisoners, the ability to come together to look after each other.
“We had to organise ourselves constantly to protect ourselves from their violence.
“We also had to form networks among prisoners to get access to basic items like toilet paper that was often denied by prison authorities.”
On US politics, Manning told a Sydney audience on September 2: “We live in a domestic, violent occupation…
“What’s happened is a mentality of we’re going into a neighbourhood and we’re not policing it, we’re patrolling it ... the police are now the military and the military is very much the police force.
“Every minor policing action is now viewed in the lens of national security.”
In Melbourne, Manning said “[President Donald] Trump is not an anomaly or an aberration: he is the logical outcome of the system we have — a massive anti-immigration system, the world's biggest prison system, the world's biggest military…”
The system was the same under former president Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, Manning said. The difference was “they gave us a warmer, friendlier police state”.
Turning to data privacy, Manning said in Sydney that data breach scandals like the recent Cambridge Analytica or Facebook debacles were “business as usual” for tech companies.
“Whenever you’re using, providing your information for free on social media … it’s not really for free, you’re actually turning over something … you’re turning over your personal information.”
“These are features in the system, not bugs,” she said.
At the Melbourne meeting, she pointed out that “companies have constantly changing terms and conditions that invade our privacy and undermine our consent”.
Arguing something has to be done about this, Manning believes “people working in the technology sector need a code of ethics, like doctors have the Hippocratic Oath.”
Ending on a message of hope, Manning said, “making change happen inspires people … We can do more if we come together as a community…
“I’m now spending a lot of time working with organisers from local communities.”
“I found people don’t need to be told the problems in their community,” Manning said, reflecting on her unsuccessful campaign for the US Senate. “They know the problems. And unlike the government, they often know the solutions.”