“To be brave, you have to know so you can act.”
They were South African author Sisonke Msimang’s words but could well have been the theme for this past weekend’s Antidote, a festival of ideas which focused on solutions that saw Chelsea Manning, Ronan Farrow, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Maureen Dowd, Msimang and more speaking out on the Sydney Opera House stages.
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The event was almost overshadowed by the home affairs department’s decision to issue a notice of intention to deny Manning an entry visa on character grounds last week. But her talk went ahead regardless: Manning video-called in from Los Angeles to talk to Australian journalist Peter Greste, and the delighted crowd gave the US whistleblower a standing ovation for her efforts.
The event was about more than Manning though: there was calls for courage, fearlessness and activism, warnings about surveillance and lashings of political gossip. Even Captain America got a look in. This is what we learned.
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She’s known for her bravery, but Chelsea Manning believes the enemy within is the one we should be most concerned about. “Whenever I think about the war on terror, I usually view it from the perspective of everyone else and that is, we’re largely being terrorised by our own state.”
Via videocall, the data privacy activist – who served seven years in jail for leaking official secrets – described living in the US as like being under a “domestic military occupation”, similar to being imprisoned with constant surveillance and police presence. She said the lines between the military and the police force were blurred – “and those lines keep getting blurrier and blurrier”. When Greste asked whether dangerous times warranted such measures, her response was firm. “No, because it keeps getting used for bad purposes. You can’t trust the government to be benevolent all the time.”
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