Chelsea Manning Runs for Senate
On January 11 Chelsea Manning announced that she was running for Senate in Maryland in the Democratic primary against incumbent candidate Ben Cardin.
Ever since I found out about this announcement, I’ve been turning it over in my head.
I was in high school when Chelsea Manning leaked documents to Wikileaks. I was 17 or 18 (and for that matter, Chelsea was 21 or 22). Her public life has informed me as I’ve grown up. When her initial leaks were made, I was just coming into a radical political consciousness. I moved quickly, realizing that the Democratic party was not a home for me, and trying to find some place I did belong. I have never once thought that Chelsea was a traitor, and I have defended her many times. I was impatient with leftists who took their time coming around to calling her Chelsea, it wasn’t my first or last time experiencing transmisogyny amongst leftists.
I know that there will be other transgender women who will celebrate the opportunity to support a transgender woman for the U.S. Senate, especially in light of the victories that transgender people won in 2017 elections. Chelsea Manning’s campaign has the potential to be a lightening rod in these dark times where it seems every day the Trump administration gives us another thing to fight back against. For the nth time in my life, I wonder to myself why I can’t just find the good in the situation. A question that does not organically grow in my mind, but that comes from a lifetime of being called a pessimist and a downer by those around me.
The reality of my pessimism is clear to me, though it may be muddled to others (that is, the logic may not follow as well as I would like it to). Chelsea has yet to say whether or not her run is strictly a protest run, nor should she! The label itself seems to mostly be put on to campaigns by the pundit class to try to discredit a campaign. Whether she wants to win or not or thinks that she can or not, saying that hers is a protest campaign would only act to stack the deck against her winning. The body which she is running to serve on has, in my lifetime, only ever disappointed me. Already, that statement being true (or even just my believing it to be true) paints me as too harsh a critic to many, too pessimistic a participant in a supposed democracy. Once, when I was still in high school, I believed in that body. In fact, I had daydreams of serving on it. And when I was attending community college, I still hoped that that body could produce good work, that it could still be a just organization. And since then, I have come to only loathe it and its members, who, even the most “liberal” or “progressive” amongst them have disappointed me.
It is because of these feelings that I have reservations about Chelsea’s running for senate.
Similar to all I’ve said above, it is hard for me to imagine why Chelsea would run as a Democrat. Maybe she’s been a lifelong Democrat and I’ve not known it. Or, more simply, maybe she realizes that paths to victory are paved through the two party system. I’m only old enough to have voted in two presidential elections, and in both I voted for Jill Stein — this is an indication of what the Democratic party means to me. I can’t pretend I wouldn’t prefer to see Chelsea run on the Green Party ticket.
I haven’t seen a campaign website for Chelsea as of yet. Her Twitter links to her ActBlue page. ActBlue, on its website, claims to have raised over 2 billion for “… Democrats and progressive causes….” Though some or most of Chelsea’s positions on issues are probably perfectly clear, it would be nice to see and read a platform. It will be interesting to see what ways, if any, the Democratic Party supports her in this election.
All of this said, it didn’t take me ten days to begin to write about this for the above reasons alone.
Chelsea Manning has been through things I can’t even begin to fathom, some things that I actively have to try not to imagine, and has come through the other side. Solitary confinement, being mistreated by prison authorities (“mistreated” here likely being far too weak a word), suicidal ideation and gender dysphoria all but a few of the challenges Chelsea faced from the time of her arrest to the time of her release.
Because her lived experiences and mine are so vastly different in these respects (save for suicidal ideation and gender dysphoria), how can I imagine myself in any position to say that Chelsea shouldn’t run for the U.S. Senate if that’s what she chooses to do. While I can’t say that her election to the body would cause me to regain any faith in it, I have to realize that Chelsea Manning running for Senate is so vastly different than, say, if Caitlyn Jenner ran for public office.
I hope that her running makes folks uncomfortable (I mean, hope or not, I know that it will). I hope she has the opportunity to debate Senator Cardin many times. I look forward to telling anyone and everyone I have to that she’s the furthest thing from a traitor. Despite everything, it is nice to see Chelsea Manning remain courageous when no one could expect her to, and that’s what makes all of this complicated for me. When I might want to implore her to engage in any other way, I find that it doesn’t make sense to do anything other than to wish her the best and support her in this endeavor.
There are worse things in this time than a trans woman senator with Chelsea’s record of action.