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Happy 29th Birthday, Chelsea Manning

Without action from Obama, Chelsea may not make it to 30.

2016.12.17.Manning.New.mainLetter to Chelsea Manning. (Image by Molly Crabapple)

On December 17, 2016, Chelsea Manning will spend her birthday in prison for the seventh year in a row.

Arrested at 22, she is now just a year shy of 30. She will wake up alone in her cell. Like so many birthdays that have come before, she will spend the day away from family and loved ones. In the Disciplinary Barracks at the far corner of Fort Leavenworth, just over the Missouri border in Kansas, Chelsea will keep dreaming of her freedom on the eve of a new year, a new presidency, a new world.

She has spent so many of her young adult years locked away and isolated. Relationships that never were have passed her by. Education that was always out of reach still taunts her on the horizon of the unrealized possibilities of her life. A woman who just wanted to live, yearns to be free of the relentless nightmare of incarceration.

In the face of everything, Chelsea engages with the world, models accountability, transparency and camaraderie, and imagines a more just future. Even as she is punished when she fights to live or chooses to try to die  — Chelsea dares to claim her truth. She does not give up or give in and we are all better for it.

This year on her birthday, we have a chance to join her fight by calling on President Obama to free her.

Since her arrest, Chelsea notes in her plea to President Obama for the commutation of her sentence, “the world has changed.”

Whereas she enlisted in the military in part to escape her truth as trans person at a time when she felt there was no future for her, today, she notes, “More people know about trans people. We are more visible and open and active in the world. It was far too early for the world to understand who I am. Now, I feel left out. I feel alone. I feel lost. I wish I had received a fair shot at a better life. I wish I could take part in the changes that are happening now.”

In just over a month, President Obama will leave office turning over the government to a Trump administration. Before he does, he has a chance to free Chelsea, to commute her sentence, and to, in her words, give her “a first chance to live … life outside the USDB as the person [she] was born to be.”

Two years ago, Poet Saul Williams wrote to Chelsea on her birthday: “I know that you have been called names like ‘traitor’ and a host of others, but please never forget that for many of us who guard the flame that will one day burn the injustice out of empire you are a hero. Your actions have sparked more than global unrest, they have sparked the imagination of artists, engineers, teachers, and activists.”

Today, Williams’s words are more resonant than ever. We need the vision and imagination of artists, storytellers, dreamers and fighters to guide us in the years to come. We need brave souls to expose the evils of our governing institutions. We need Chelsea.

Join me in wishing her a happy birthday. Join me in calling on President Obama to free her.

We don’t want to look back next year and mourn her premature death.

The time to act is now.

Learn more at

2016.12.17.Manning.MainMay 11, 2014: Activists rally in front of the White House in support of an unlikely presidential pardon for convicted whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The Obama White House had declared that it will not even respond to Chelsea’s request for clemency until all of her appeals are exhausted, a process which could take many years. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian / Flickr)

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