Report from the Pvt. Manning Contingent at SF Pride, June 2015

Sunday, June 28th started out cloudy, as one might expect in San Francisco, but the sun eventually came out, making it a good day for the Gay Pride event — and a good day to honor Whistleblower Chelsea Manning.  There was to be a parade, and one of the units would be the Pvt. Manning Contingent.

The meet up place was near the Embarcadero BART station, a couple blocks south of Market Street.  I got there at about noon.  Several dozen people were there for our contingent, more coming.  There was a pile of signs, and several banners, the one that would lead at the front read: “We stand with Chelsea Manning, heroic WikiLeaks whistleblower.”

There were also small stickers, about three inches in diameter, displaying a picture of dog tags and a whistle with the words “Free Chelsea Manning.”  We put these stickers on our hats and packs and arms and legs.  It’s the kind of thing you do while you’re waiting, and as it turned out we had a long wait ahead of us.  The parade had, of course, started.  It was just that there were over 200 units participating, and we were somewhere towards the end.

I ran into Mike Wong from the SF chapter of Veterans for Peace; we exchanged stories of our military careers, back in the 1960s.  Both of us had once been pro-war and gung-ho on the military.  Mike was in high school ROTC and after graduating he joined the army where he heard from returning GIs what the war in Nam was really about — endless atrocities.  A lot of My Lai stuff — the sort of stuff that Pvt. Manning had exposed about the Iraq war.

Our contingent was a coalition of many groups.  One group, a drill team consisting of about nineteen people, was practicing its choreography.  The group seemed to have it down very well.

And then, finally, finally, we were moving!  The parade route ran up Market Street from the waterfront towards the Civic Center.  Both sides of this street were lined with tall buildings, many of them historical.  The sidewalks below them were packed with tens of thousands of curious spectators, watching us, intent on seeing who we were and what our message might be.

In all, about eighty or ninety people had shown up to march in the Manning Contingent.  This was considerably fewer than a couple of years ago, when Pvt. Manning was nominated to be the parade marshal, and then was abruptly denied the honor, an incident that caused a lot of outrage which brought over a thousand people to march in the contingent.  That was in 2013, the first time I’d ever attended a gay pride event, let alone march in one.  Memories of that event made this year’s contingent seem tiny by comparison.  Yes, we were small and tiny this year, 2015, but intending to make good use of our limited numbers and make this come off well.

We positioned the largest portion of our group, some fifty people, at the forefront of our unit, with banners and signs, chanting as they marched “Free, free, Chelsea Manning!”

Next came our vehicle, a limousine in which Daniel Ellsberg and several others rode.  Like everything else in our unit, this vehicle was decked out with Whistleblower Chelsea Manning signs and banners.  The vehicle also carried a PA system, and in the trunk, which was kept open throughout the march, was a large supply of the small 3-inch stickers which were to be passed out to spectators along the march route.

Following our vehicle came our drill team, the group of nineteen people doing their well rehearsed choreographic display which they preformed to music.  The music was played from the PA system in the vehicle.

Bringing up the rear were two more banners.  One was a Veterans for Peace banner carried by Mike Wong, a couple of others, and myself. “Honor the Whistleblower.  Prosecute the War Criminals” it read.  We took care to maintain a distance between ourselves and the drill team, so that our banner would get maximum visibility.

And behind us, likewise at a suitable distance to maintain visibility, came a large banner reading “God bless Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.”

If we’d crowded too close together, people and banners would’ve been covering each other up.  We wanted spectators to see each in turn: starting with the fifty or so in front, then the vehicle, the drill team, the Veterans for Peace banner, and finally the banner behind us.  And while we marched, teams of two or three people on each side of the street passed out the small “Free Chelsea Manning” stickers.  Many spectators took the stickers, some putting them in their pockets; a good many put them on their clothes, displaying them.

Daniel Borgstrom is a child of the 1950s who joined the US Marine Corps (1959-1963), naively believing he was helping to defend our freedoms. Today he's an antiwar activist and also a fan of film noir. He can be reached at: danielfortyone@gmail.com. Read other articles by Daniel, or visit Daniel's website.