RoJ Whelan - Friday night
Nuala Kelly speaks about supporting prisoners overseas
Saturday in Castle Square
Raising spirits, awareness and funds.
In response to last November's visit by Private Chelsea (Bradley) Manning's mother, aunts and uncle to Dublin, Irish musicians, performers, academics and activists brought the inaugural Manning Truthfest to Haverfordwest (and Fishguard) this last weekend 10 & 11 January.
The driving force behind the weekend was Irish playwright and actor Donal O'Kelly along with Joe Murray of Afri (Action from Ireland).
Joe Murray writes:
Having hosted the Manning Family during their momentous visit to Ireland, Afri was delighted to continue that support for the Manning Truthfest – ‘the return fixture’ - in Wales last weekend. Donal O’Kelly had met the family, heard their story and, never one to miss an opportunity for offering support and solidarity, came up with the wonderful idea of the Manning Truthfest. This was a voyage of discovery in many ways as musicians and artists were contacted and assembled, car pools sorted and the ferry crossing arranged. From the moment we gathered this group of artists seemed imbued with a special spirit. On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Genny and the family, provided with excellent accommodation and from then on it was non-stop music. Despite the harrowing nature and the brutal treatment of Chelsea Manning there is much to celebrate in a life marked by courage and truth and it was appropriate that this Truthfest was awash with the sounds of music, song, poetry, drama, dance and drumbeat. Thank you to all who made it possible.
Part 1 of the report continues here.
On Saturday morning, Genny, Joe and Ciaron headed for Castle Square, Haverfordwest again - this time in the sunshine - for more event promotion and flyering... with Joe providing musical accompaniment.
We handed out a lot of our solidarity postcards, information about the Family Fund on one side, how to write to Chelsea on the reverse. People stopped to ask what we were doing and some said they would come along to either the afternoon event at the Picton Centre or the evening gig at the Labour Club.
We gathered at 2pm at the Picton Centre on Freemans Way, Haverfordwest. After Andy Storey, chair of Afri, had welcomed everyone including family members and introduced the event, Sorcha Fox read out Chelsea Manning's powerful Thanksgiving Message to those assembled. Each of the three members of the panel then spoke before taking questions and comments.
Harry Browne spoke about the politics of Manning's Wikileaks revelations, tying them to the Arab Spring and suggesting that they have already been hugely consequential in contemporary history. Nuala Kelly shared her wide experience of supporting prisoners overseas and their families and pointed out that Chelsea Manning would be entitled if she wished to register as an Irish citizen and claim an Irish passport as her grandfather was Irish. Ciaron O'Reilly spoke about his experience of solidarity while a prisoner of the US and why it's of crucial importance both to the person inside and to their family outside. Solidarity breaks through the sense of isolation cultivated by the system and protects the prisoner: those in charge are far less likely to abuse a prisoner who has a wide support base beyond the jail.
Part 2 of the report continues here.
The third and final formal event of the Manning Truthfest (discounting the communal breakfast expedition on Sunday morning on the way to the ferry) was a truly collaborative effort between the family home team and their visiting supporters. Chelsea’s relatives had organised the night in their local social club, decorated it on an Irish theme, donned hats, wigs and costumes to match and conjured up a buffet feast that definitely wasn’t going to run out. In addition, Chelsea’s Mum Susan had donated a beautiful and striking wall-hanging she had made to be raffled and Tydfil Morgan of the local Women’s Institute had kindly sewn on a backing. Long-time WISE Up activists Genny and Ciaron brought along their Manning banners, an info stall and a donations bucket, while the Irish crew provided everything else: music, poetry and performance.
It’s hard to put the magic of the evening into words, but it had a lot to do with the power of people coming together for a common cause that all are deeply connected to in one way or another, as well as being open to all the emotions such a gathering can elicit, from the lighthearted and celebratory to the serious, angry and determined. From the moment we arrived, with the newly formed Truthfest band (watch out for them – they’re going far!) practising in a corner to the very end of the night, the spirit of Chelsea Manning and the example set by her commitment to truth-telling were with us and made this an unforgettable experience.
Donal O’Kelly, who conceived the idea of a Irish-Welsh Truthfest after meeting members of the Manning family in Dublin last November, did the introductions.
Sorcha Fox performed extracts from her poetic work Who Am Ireland? She spoke of the inspiration - and anger - that came after she visited those resisting the Shell Corrib gas project at Rossport on the west coast of Ireland. The project, a disaster for the local environment, has been delayed for years by the determined locals and the many outside supporters who have joined in the resistance effort. Like Rossport, the solidarity network building between Ireland and Wales in support of Chelsea Manning is also bringing diverse and far-flung people together; both Rossport and the local Pembrokeshire port of Milford Haven are adversely affected by oil and gas corporate interests, and both Rossport and Pembrokeshire have Broadhaven bays - our accommodation for the weekend was at Broadhaven.
It was the courage of the people in Rossport to be true to who they were, recognise wrong and stand for what they believed to be right against a tidal wave of state intimidation and pressure that inspired my poems. Chelsea Manning has the courage to be who she is and to act according to her conscience despite that tidal wave of opposition. As a woman and an activist that is truly inspiring.
Part 3 of the report continues here.
More photos on flickr.