Over one thousand marched in a boisterous Bradley Manning contingent at SF Pride Sunday, in a show of defiance against the Pride board's decision to exclude Manning as Grand Marshal and welcome in military recruiters.
Manning's supporters—who appointed Manning 'Community Grand Marshal'—were the largest non-corporate contingent in the parade, KOFY TV reported, and launched flash mobs and mobile dance parties with live music as they marched, taking up over four blocks of the parade.
"The people of San Francisco, they understand now more than ever that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wrong and should not be encouraged," Farah Muhsin of the Bradley Manning Support Network told Common Dreams. "They are more aware about Bradley Manning, and support is growing."
"Iraqis for Whistleblowing" carried signs declaring "Manning blew the whistle, pride just blew it," next to an image of Manning behind bars, as well as an image from a U.S. Army 2010 Baghdad massacre caught on video—termed "Collateral Murder"—that Manning exposed to the public. Organizers handed out hundreds of signs and stickers to the enthusiastic crowd.
"Bradley Manning speaks for you, Bradley Manning Speaks for me!" chanted marchers as they waved signs declaring "Bradley Manning: queer hero!"
Shouts of "No assimilation, No incarceration, No conformity, Free Bradley!" rang out over the crowd.
A colorful banner reading "Pride in our Whistleblowers!" was so long it took 20 people to carry it.
In the skies above the march, an airplane flew a banner that read, "Our LGBTQ hero: Bradley Manning."
At one point, a choreographed flash mob snuck to the front of the SF Pride rally and performed a dance in support of the Wikileaks whistleblower. Many in the Manning contingent played music and danced the entire span of the march, and organizers report mostly positive responses from bystanders, including cheers, whistles, and high-fives.
"In the U.S. there are very few opportunities to forward the truth about what's happening in Iraq," said D. 'Alwan, who provided artwork for the Manning support contingent and infiltrated SF Pride in an earlier unauthorized contingent of marchers. "Bradley Manning is one of the few people who had an inside view, acted based on his conscience, and took a big risk and exposed U.S. war crimes. We should all be very proud of him. As an Iraqi-American person I wanted to honor Bradley Manning and honor my family, most of whom have fled Iraq in the last decade."
The contingent, organized by the Bradley Manning Support Network, was not the only Pride contingent marching in support of Bradley Manning. Organizations including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, SEIU Local 1021, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and Global Exchange also showed support for Manning in their Pride contingents.
After the Pride march, Manning's supporters staged a disruption of military recruiters who set up booths targeting pride attendees for potential enlistment. The Brass Liberation Orchestra marching band, and other Manning supporters, surrounded the military booths, playing music and chanting so loudly that they drowned out the recruiters. Manning's supporters then formed a semi-circle around the recruitment booth to insulate Pride attendees from the recruiters.
"I refused to go to recruiters' area," said Farah Muhsin, organizer with Bradley Manning Support Network who was living in Iraq during the U.S.-led 2003 invasion. "I have been through the war, through the invasion. They continue to encourage young men and women to continue devastation overseas. It made me very uncomfortable that there were recruiters at Pride."
The large numbers who turned out to support Bradley Manning hail the former soldier as a 'queer hero' for exposing widespread U.S. human rights abuses and war crimes.
Manning is currently facing court martial after surviving over 900 days of confinement at the hands of the U.S. Army that included solitary confinement and other forms of torture. Manning faces heavy charges of violating the espionage act and aiding the enemy, and if convicted, he could face the death penatly, although prosecutors say they will not seek that outcome.
Manning was initially slated to be Grand Marshall of this massive LGBTQ celebration, but the SF Pride board rescinded the honor in early June, with the board president declaring manning a 'traitor.'
The SF Pride board then invited the U.S. military to actively recruit at this massive celebration, marking the first official military recruitment in the festival's history.
Many in the LGBTQ community slammed the board's embrace of militarism as an afront to the radical history of Pride, stemming from the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
For months, Manning's supporters have organized open letters, community meetings, and protests to demand that Pride honor Manning.
When the Pride board refused, SF organizers took it into their own hands. Meanwhile, queer movements across the country—including New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and Minneapolis—held Manning support contingents in their Pride marches.
SF organizers say the outcome was an important show of strength after repeated blows from the SF Pride board. "It was great seeing all the support," says Muhsin. "I'd say we had a huge impact on Pride."