Chelsea Manning, a transgender woman who formerly served as a United States Army intelligence analyst, has filed paperwork to run as a Democrat for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat this year.
Manning was convicted by court-martial in 2013 on multiple counts, including violating the Espionage Act and copying and distributing classified military field reports. Although she leaked thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, her 35-year prison sentence was shortened to seven by President Barack Obama in January 2017.
President Obama’s decision to grant Manning clemency was controversial at the time, because Manning — then known as Bradley– had swiped 700,000 military files and diplomatic cables and gave them to WikiLeaks. During a two week leave from her posting at a military base outside of Baghdad, Manning witnessed how disengaged Americans were from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and felt compelled to act.
“There were two worlds,” Manning explained in a New York Times magazine interview. “The world in America, and the world I was seeing [in Iraq]. I wanted people to see what I was seeing.”
None of the documents were classified higher than secret, however, and former White House spokesman John Earnest said that Manning’s actions were not as “dangerous” as those of Edward Snowden. More than 117,000 people signed a petition asking the White House to consider releasing Manning early, and Edward Snowden himself tweeted in support of granting Manning clemency.
“I understand that it’s very important to maintain a certain sense of opaqueness in the government because we can’t have all sorts of information flying about. But, I think that it wasn’t such a terrible thing to have leaked those stuff because the public should be aware of what’s going on and I wouldn’t hold it against her,” sophomore Elizabeth Haupt said.
Manning was freed from Fort Leavenworth military prison on May 17, 2017. As she continues to appeal her court-martial, Manning will remain on unpaid, active-duty status, which allows her to retain her access to military medical benefits.
Since her release from prison, she has become an outspoken activist for trans rights who has written articles for the Guardian that present a wide range of positions, including the draft of a proposed law to provide protections for whistleblowers.
If she were to be elected, Manning would become the first transgender woman and youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“I think it’s really important that the queer community has representation within the U.S. Senate because the more gay and transgender people that we can have advocating for us in legal positions of power the better because we don’t have as many rights as we should,” senior Alex Shawn said.
She is currently running against two-term Senator Ben Cardin in the June 2018 Democratic primary. Cardin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is Maryland’s senior U.S. senator.
During his 12 years in office, Cardin has become known as a loyal supporter of the Israeli government. In 2017 he authored a bill that would have made it a crime to support a boycott of Israel. The ACLU immediately denounced this bill and multiple senators who had co-sponsored Cardin’s bill also withdrew their support.
Soon after Manning announced her candidacy, a smear campaign was launched by establishment Democrats who seek to portray her as a tool of the Kremlin.
Neera Tanden, the President of the Center for American Progress, spread the following viral tweet: “Senator Cardin authored and released a 200-page masterpiece on Russian influence in western elections. Suddenly he has a primary from Kremlin stooge Assange’s Wikileaks primary source Chelsea Manning. The Kremlin plays the extreme left to swing elections. Remember that.”
Although many see flaws in this particular conspiracy, they still have some reservations about Manning, as she has no political experience.
“The whole trans representation thing would be great but I think I have to do some more looking into her policies and beliefs because I assume she’s a Democrat but I don’t actually know how suited she would be for actual office,” said junior Keira DiGaetano. “She hasn’t done politics before, so I think she kind of has to prove her worth there. But I’ll support her.”
Manning will need to beat Cardin, Jerry Sega, Richard Vaughn, and Debbie Wilson in the June 26, 2018 primary election in order to proceed to the November general election. She currently faces the difficult task of breaking Cardin’s seemingly interminable 12-year tenure, for incumbency is always a major obstacle facing newcomers. Although Manning’s chances are slim, the discussion generated by her Senate run is a hugely important part of America’s political discourse.
Feature photo courtesy of Bryan Bedder/Getty Images