A fundraiser to welcome home former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning has raised more than $83,000 in just one week. Nearly 2,000 individuals from across the globe have contributed to the GoFundMe donation drive organized by Manning’s friends and family, with the goal of reaching $100,000 to help her start a new life outside prison when she is released on May 17.
“It's amazing to see so much support for Chelsea, but it's not really a surprise,” Evan Greer, a friend and supporter of Manning, told NBC Out. “She has done so much to fight for all of our basic human rights. I think people are grateful for the opportunity to give back by supporting her.”
On January 17, President Obama commuted Manning of her 35-year prison sentence for her role in one of the largest leaks of classified military information in the history of the United States. In 2010, she leaked more than 700,000 secret U.S. Government documents, including diplomatic cables and U.S. military war logs, to Wikileaks. At the time, Manning wrote that she conducted these leaks in the hope that they would generate “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.”
“Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence,” President Obama said in his final news conference. “It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it made sense to commute and not pardon her sentence.”
The commutation was lauded by several human rights and civil liberties organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty International, which called the commutation a “long overdue positive step for human rights.”
Chase Strangio, one of Manning’s ACLU attorneys, said the commutation “likely saved her life.” While being incarcerated at a men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Manning, who is transgender, attempted suicide twice, and Strangio said she was subjected to "demoralizing and destabilizing assaults on her health and humanity."
There was also expected criticism from conservatives, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called the commutation “outrageous" and said it set "a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won't be held accountable for their crimes."
Regardless of what one thinks of Manning's actions and her punishment, once she's released from prison on May 17 -- after serving a seven-year sentence -- adjusting to her new life will likely be a challenge.
"Upon her release she will need logistical, emotional, and financial support to safely transition into the free world," her GoFundMe page states. "For the first time in her life, Chelsea will have the opportunity to live freely as her authentic self, to grow her hair, engage with her friends, and build her own networks of love and support. We want her to have the tools to do that and to overcome the years of abuse she has experienced in custody."
Manning, who came out as transgender woman after her arrest, will be dishonorably discharged from the Army and as a result will not be eligible for Department of Defense benefits, including medical care and gender transition care. This fundraiser is intended to help with those costs and help her start a new life by paying for additional things such as “rent, utilities, health care, clothing and other living expenses for the first year after she is released,” according to the GoFundMe page.
A number of those who donated to the "Chelsea Manning Welcome Home Fund" stated they were inspired to do, because they admired her "courage," "bravery" and "patriotism," and credited the leaks with exposing abuses.
“Thank you for your courage in trying to make our country better for all of us,” wrote donor Dennis Peterson. Tristan Townsend, another donor, wrote, "You are such a courageous person who has endured so much for the benefit of others. Thank you so much."
While in prison Manning wrote about whistleblowing, national security, LGBTQ rights, health care and a number of other issues. She has not stated publicly exactly what she will do once she is free, but according to Strangio, she will not cease to be vocal on such issues.
“Finally she will have the opportunity to chart her own path, and only she can say what that will look like. I know from my experience with her that her commitment to fighting injustice is unwavering, and I am confident that she will continue to fight for government transparency, trans justice and the many other fights ahead," Strangio said.