Bradley Manning at SF Pride

now Chelsea Manning

reports from three years, 2013, 2014 and 2015:

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 for the contingent was near the Embarcadero BART station, a couple blocks south of Market Street. I got there about noon. Several dozen people were there, more coming. There was a pile of signs and several banners, the banner that would be carried 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 already 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 are 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 passed out to spectators along the march route.

Following our vehicle came our drill team, the nineteen people doing their well rehearsed choreographic display which they performed to music from our PA system.

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 came a large banner reading "God bless Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange."

While we marched, teams of two or three people on each side of the street passed out the "Free Chelsea Manning" stickers, giving spectators a way of displaying their support for the whistleblowers, who clearly need that support.

June 2015

report from last year,


Sunday, June 29th was a warm sunny day which is never to be taken for granted in San Francisco, a perfect day for the annual Pride Parade. I got there at about 11 a.m. and made my way up Spear Street to the staging area of our unit, there to march in honor of our heroic WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

There were about 200 of us assembled for the Chelsea Manning contingent, including people from Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans, and other groups and individuals.
Daniel Ellsberg was also there.

One person, Henry Johnson, whom I'd known from the Lake Merritt peace walk, grinned and asked me, "Could you have imagined, back when you were in the Marine Corps, that you would someday be marching in a parade to celebrate Gay Pride, and in support of a gay soldier?"

"No way could I have ever pictured such a thing," I had to say. "That was a totally different world, 50 years ago now."

The parade route itself was a march up Market Street, only about a mile, but it took over an hour to cover the distance. All along, the sidewalks were packed with thousands and thousands of spectators, a huge crowd, many of them cheering us. Others asked us who Chelsea Manning was. The corporate media does such a poor job of reporting the stories behind the stories that here was a poor soldier, arrested, tortured and given a prison sentence of 35 years for blowing the whistle on the military, and yet many Americans don't know who Manning is. Along with Edward Snowden, Manning is a contemporary hero, following in the footsteps of Daniel Ellsberg.

"Free! free! Chelsea Manning!" we chanted, and, "Chelsea Manning speaks for us!" We carried banners and signs with pictures of the soldier.

The route ended near the Civic Center. After the parade I went to look at the continuing festivities which went on all afternoon and presumably well into the evening, and here I got an even better idea of the size of the event. For block after block in all directions, the city was flooded with people, packed solid with hundreds of thousands of people, by some estimates a million or more. And it wasn't just Gays or LGBT people, it was everybody. Both straight and gay.

The sheer size of it was a statement in itself, so different from the homophobic world of the 1950s that I grew up in. I could never have imagined such a thing back when I was a 20-year-old GI, and certainly not with me in it.


Below is a report from the SF Pride event of

June 2013

by Daniel Borgström

A couple of months before San Francisco's annual Gay Pride event of 2013, the following statement appeared:

"Bradley Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year's San Francisco Pride celebration. His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen. A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations within the SF Pride organization. That was an error and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at that time, speak for SF Pride."

The statement, signed "Lisa L. Williams, SF Pride Board President," claimed to speak not only for the gay community, but for military veterans as well, saying that support for whistleblower Manning "would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country."

I had never been to the San Francisco Gay Pride event before, but this year, being blown away by Lisa Williams' extreme statement, and being an ex-Marine myself, I really wanted to march in support of whistleblower Bradley Manning and protest the shabby treatment he got from the parade committee. The committee had initially named him Parade Marshal, then suddenly withdrew the honor. The reason for the about-face was not hard to discover-- a glance at SF Pride's website showed that the sponsors of this parade were the 1% of the 1%, the very same corporations which have been buying up politicians and everything else, including parades.

While many people see PFC Bradley Manning as a hero, it's quite understandable that the corporations or anyone wishing to toady up to them were less willing to honor him. He's the soldier who gave WikiLeaks a trove of info, including a video of a US Army helicopter shooting Iraqi civilians -- the infamous "Collateral Murder" video. Those revelations embarrassed the US military and foreign policy establishment; the army jailed him and was now, at the time of this parade, court-martialing him.

So this seemed a good time and place to show up in support of PFC Manning. A coalition organized a Bradley Manning contingent to march in it. Groups and organizations were endorsing it, and people were sending out invitations on Facebook and urging each other to attend.

Finally, the day came -- Sunday, June 30th. There were about 250 units in this parade. The staging area for ours was a couple blocks south of Market street, and instructions were to be there at 11 o'clock. I took BART as always when going to San Francisco, but the trains were full like I'd rarely seen them. People were packed in tightly and still there wasn't room for all, many were left on the platform to wait for a later train. When I got off at the Embarcadero station and emerged onto Market street, the parade was already going. Already?

People were everywhere, huge crowds. Hurrying as best I could, I made my way to Beale and then up the street towards our staging area, working my way through the densely packed crowd. It was like the lobby of a crowded theater, block after block. "Hi Daniel!" I turned and saw Elle Queue, a comrade from Occupy Oakland. So, maybe we'd both be late. Would our contingent have moved out by the time we got there? Could we find it? Could we somehow catch up?

Not to worry. Our contingent was still at the staging area, with no sign of moving anytime soon--we were unit #179. Beale street was reasonably wide, but people were packed in, hard to tell how many. The Brass Liberation Orchestra (BLO) was there, playing and some people were dancing. I helped pass out "Free Bradley Manning" stickers. They were about two inches in diameter and came in two colors, orange or pink. People were pasting them on their shirts and hats and handbags. I had about three stickers on my T-shirt.

Along with the stickers were posters and banners of all sizes, saying "Free Bradley Manning." His photo was on many of these. A huge banner stretching the entire width of the street, read: "Pride in our whistle-blower." Smaller ones read: "LGBT! Bradley Manning leaks for me!" and "Bradley Manning: America's moral compass." My favorite read "They say court-martial. We say Parade Marshal."

Our contingent was a diverse assortment of people, some from veterans groups, some from gay groups, others from various Occupy groups. Most were young, but there were many elders too. There was a trolley car-like bus for the elderly and disabled. On it were several who'd been lifelong activists. Pat Maginnis from the Lake Merritt peace walk. Jean Pauline a KPFA activist, and Harry Siitonen, a WW II veteran from Veterans for Peace.

In addition to the majority who were normally clothed, there were three young guys, bouncing around completely naked. Well, that's the kind of parade we were in.

"Mic check!" someone called out. "Mic check!" we echoed back, and it was announced that someone had resigned from the Pride committee over the bad treatment of Bradley Manning. There was a round of applause.

The announcement was brief, and the waiting continued. Among the many whom I didn't know, I ran into a few that I did know. Events like this are a reunion. Catherine who'd set up my website for me. Brian with whom I'd shared a jail cell when the OPD had mass arrested 400 of us. There was a lot to talk about, but it wasn't easy to hear, with the Brass Liberation Orchestra playing and more distant bands as well.

A woman asked if she could have her picture taken with me. I wondered why but of course assented. Then she thanked me for my good work and said she'd been following what I'd been doing for 40 years. Having been introduced to her as Daniel, I realized that she had mistaken me for Daniel Ellsberg, who was present, though i didn't see him. I smiled, shook my head. "I am Daniel," I said, "and I am an ex-marine. But I'm not Ellsberg."

Waiting, talking, listening to our band, watching young people dance. They seemed to have boundless energy. Had I ever been that full of energy? Years ago, maybe. but no longer. I sat down on the asphalt street, as did many others. Still waiting. Forenoon became noon. Then afternoon. One o'clock became two o'clock. The hot sun slowly moved its way across the sky, finally slipping behind some tall buildings which began to cast growing shadows on the street, giving relief from its burning rays. Three hours had passed, and we were still waiting.

People started getting up. We were moving. It was about 2:05 p.m. Slowly, slowly we inched down Beale and then at last we were on Market street, a truly broad street which our contingent still managed to fill curb to curb. All around were our banners. The one reading "Pride in our whistle-blower" was so long it had to be carried by twenty people. Others, with Manning's photo on tall, pole-like flag-banners seemed to fill the air around me. Somewhere up ahead the Brass Liberation Orchestra was playing.

"Free Bradley Manning!" we chanted. "Free Bradley Manning!"

"They say Court-Martial. We say Parade Marshal!."

Huge throngs of onlookers. Even after all these hours the streets were still thickly lined with spectators. They looked weary, but were intently watching. Many of them were wearing pink or orange "Free Bradley Manning" stickers.

Ours was probably the largest of the Manning contingents. Others had gone by earlier, and had presumably passed out the stickers that many spectators were wearing. According to some reports there were 1,000 marchers in support of Manning; other reports put the number at over 2,000. However many of us there were, we were far outnumbered by the crowds wearing the orange and pink Manning stickers.

As I marched along, it almost felt like Bradley Manning Day.

July 12, 2013

News update - August 26, 2013

Our unit, the Bradley Manning Support contingent, won the San Francisco Pride Parade's Best,
Absolutely Fabulous, Overall Contingent Award.