The Good: Chelsea Manning emerges from prison, becomes progressive icon
After serving seven years of her 35-year prison sentence, no one was expecting Chelsea Manning to be a wellspring of optimism when she was released early this year, after President Obama commuted her sentence. She had endured a lot behind bars: suicide attempts, a hunger strike, forced conformity to male grooming standards and a long struggle to secure access to medically-necessary surgery. If she had needed to retreat from the public eye for a few years – or even forever – that would have been perfectly understandable.
But she didn't. Even in prison, Manning had kept up with the world at large through a Guardian column and through dictated tweets posted to her account by friends on the outside. And when she emerged this spring, she brought a ray of digital sunshine into a dreary world. First, there was a new jaw-dropping photograph of her with red lipstick and a pixie cut – the first since a grainy black-and-white selfie to show Manning presenting fully as herself. Then, an Annie Leibovitz Vogue shoot, in which the whistleblower posed in a ruched red swimsuit. And, of course, there was Manning's high-energy presence on Twitter, where she took on her transphobic trolls and displayed a preternatural talent for stringing emojis together. But Manning's aesthetic brilliance and social media optimism were both backed up by genuine political convictions, like vocally supporting the J20 defendants – a group of protestors arrested on Inauguration Day – or condemning the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.