See Part 1 of the report for Friday’s Truthfest events.
Saturday morning: back on the streets
On Saturday morning, Genny, Joe and Ciaron headed for Castle Square, Haverfordwest again – this time in the sunshine – for more event promotion and flyering…
with Joe providing musical accompaniment.
We handed out a lot of our solidarity postcards, information about the Family Fund on one side, how to write to Chelsea on the reverse. People stopped to ask what we were doing and some said they would come along to either the afternoon event at the Picton Centre or the evening gig at the Labour Club.
Saturday afternoon at the Picton Centre
We gathered at 2pm at the Picton Centre on Freemans Way, Haverfordwest. After Andy Storey, chair of Afri, had welcomed everyone including family members and introduced the event, Sorcha Fox read out Chelsea Manning’s powerful Thanksgiving Message to those assembled. Each of the three members of the panel then spoke before taking questions and comments.
Journalist and author Harry Browne spoke about the power of making the family connection and also about the politics of Manning’s Wikileaks revelations, tying them to the Arab Spring and suggesting that they have already been hugely consequential in contemporary history.
Nuala Kelly was previously director of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas and has worked with Irish prisoners and their families for many years. Nuala shared her experience of supporting prisoners overseas and their families and pointed out that Chelsea Manning might be entitled, if she wished, to register as an Irish citizen and claim an Irish passport as her grandfather was Irish. Regardless of formal citizenship however, it will be of great interest to Irish people at home and abroad that Chelsea has both Welsh and Irish roots and this can complement interest from other constituencies including American people who believe that Chelsea’s actions display true patriotism and democratic ideals.
Nuala spoke about the difficulties for families in maintaining contact with loved ones in prisons abroad and explained that it was for this reason that, over the past 30 – 40 years a number of European countries including Ireland, Britain, Netherlands and parts of Spain, Germany and Sweden, set up services specifically to reach out to families that have someone imprisoned abroad and offer a range of information, supports, research and lobbying to address underlying human rights concerns. Although Chelsea’s case is very different to most prisoners, nonetheless, families face similar challenges and linking with eg ICPO or Prisoners Abroad (London) can help to reduce the sense of isolation for both a prisoner and his/her family eg through newsletters, cards, penfriend schemes, prison visits, supports for families to visit, raising prison conditions or dealing with governments and prison authorities. No matter where in the world a prisoner is held, outside contact is crucial both to the prisoner and also to show the prison authorities that people care and are concerned about human rights.
Many of the campaigns for innocent prisoners started with small acts of solidarity and built momentum through links with different constituencies (Trades Councils, lawyers, journalists, academics, historians, artists, actors and musicians, women’s groups, church groups and human rights groups) all of which proved vitally important at different junctures. However, Nuala stressed that without the inspiration, focus and sheer tenacity of the families of prisoners, none of this would have happened. Therefore, it is important to maintain respectful contact and take guidance about the family’s and Chelsea’s wishes on a continuous basis. Their voice is the most persuasive and authentic source when trying to build broad support for justice. Nuala writes:
It is for this reason that it is an honour to be part of the Manning Truthfest, to help to voice the issues and lend legitimacy to those that some might want to scapegoat or discredit as traitors. Truthfest pays tribute to Chelsea’s enormous courage and that of the Manning / Fox families and reminds governments who sign up to international human rights treaties and conventions, of their duty to implement them at home as well as in their foreign policies. Human rights policies and practice should prioritise the protection of those rendered most vulnerable, marginalised and at risk, particularly those subject to multiple forms of discrimination – Chelsea, by her actions, was honouring this obligation as a duty bearer; as a rights holder she is entitled to our support to have her rights respected now.
Ciaron O’Reilly spoke about his experience of solidarity while a prisoner of the US and why it’s of crucial importance both to the person inside and to their family outside. Solidarity breaks through the sense of isolation cultivated by the system and protects the prisoner: those in charge are far less likely to abuse a prisoner who has a wide support base beyond the jail. Solidarity with families is reassuring for anxious relatives and prisoner alike. Once Ciaron knew that his family was being supported, a burden of worry was lifted from his shoulders.
He went on to speak about the humanising effect of gatherings like the Manning Truthfest, where we can learn about Chelsea directly from the family rather than what we’re fed by a sensationalist media. In a world obsessed with the super-human (e.g. celebrity) and the sub-human (e.g. porn), the value of this should not be underestimated.
One of the questions from the floor was from CND Cymru’s Jill Gough, who alerted people to the new Private Manning briefing leaflet before asking whether we have news of how Chelsea is doing post sentencing, what conditions she’s being held under, is she in a women’s prison? We know that Chelsea is held in a men’s military prison and has a part time job now in the kitchens, indicating that she is comfortable with and doesn’t feel under threat from her fellow inmates. All indications are that she’s doing well, but we’ll have more information to share once aunt and uncle Sharon and Joe have visited next month. Travel expenses for this trip will be met from the Private Manning Family Fund.
An extended break for refreshments followed: hot drinks, biscuits and a spread of sandwiches from a cancelled football fixture brought along by Kevin. This allowed time for plenty of networking, plus some recording of individual points of view by independent radio journalist (and musician) Ellen Cranitch.
The afternoon continued with a screening of Gareth Peirce’s video address (recorded before the family’s Dublin trip in November). Big thanks are due to the indomitable Andy Cummins for his technical wizardry that found the sound for this film and kept the rest of the show on the road and audible all weekend.
The afternoon closed some time after 5pm with music and song from Joe Black, RoJ Whelan, Robbie Sinnott, Imogen Gunner and Sorcha Fox.
Everything packed up and the building left as found, we set off again, this time for the Labour Club on Dew Street which was to host the final event in this inaugural Truthfest.
More photos on flickr.
See Part 3 for report and photos from Saturday night’s event.