Laura Tupou: Chelsea Manning's audience deserved better

OPINION: I went to Chelsea Manning last night with an open mind.

It was a bumpy start, with host former politician Georgina Beyer opting to firstly discuss Ms Manning's childhood - her ease with numbers in maths class, her parents' drawn-out divorce when she was 11, her move from the US countryside to the UK countryside.

Twenty minutes in and several sideways looks to my friend who I went with, I still had an open mind.

In between all the 'umms' and 'you knows' I felt we were going to build up to something. I was hoping we were building up to something.

I convinced myself she was warming up to how and why she leaked nearly 750,000 classified military and diplomatic documents and what happened as a consequence, filling in the bits we don't know and wouldn't expect.

Talking about her time in Iraq, her time in solitary confinement, her time in prison.

Turns out that was wishful thinking.

Chelsea Manning.
Chelsea Manning. Photo credit: Getty

Yes, she was asked those questions in some form at some point during the evening - a bit by Ms Beyer, some through heckling, and through questions from the audience at the end.

But it was unsettling that her answers didn't fit with what I - and others - wanted.

She couldn't talk about the documents even though they were released because they were still classified.


There was no 'moment' where she thought she should leak information, it was more of a gut feeling that built up over time. People would understand more if they knew what it was like working 12-14 hour days, seven days a week, for three months in a war zone.

There was a change from doing statistical modelling in the US where it was all about numbers, to doing them in Iraq when those numbers were people. They had hopes and dreams, families and flaws, she said.


But when Ms Manning refused to talk about her arrest because she was saving it for her book - not okay.

People paid up to $129 to attend, and I doubt the price of her book would come anywhere near that. Why did I come again?

She didn't really want to talk too much about her time in solitary confinement and she was noticeably uncomfortable.

She discussed gender identity issues with some fiery back-and-forth with Georgina until they were interrupted by an audience member: "Five Eyes!" they prompted.

Georgina half got the message and moved on to ask Chelsea what she did for fun... cue generic answer from anyone anywhere.

A few people started getting up, perhaps to go to the toilet - I'm not sure - but when the house lights came on for the Q&A there were quite a few empty seats.

Chelsea Manning in Auckland.
Chelsea Manning in Auckland. Photo credit: Chelsea Manning/Twitter

I had gone from bored, surprised, to uncomfortable, to annoyed when audience members were given the opportunity to ask questions. It was the same old thing when this happens at any event - a bunch of statements that are maybe (hopefully) followed by an answer. I could take this five times before I opted to leave.

What a relief.

A couple came out behind us and a woman asked, "What the f*** was that?".

Phew - it wasn't just me.

The hashtag for the event was #LetChelseaSpeak.

Well, that went well, didn't it?

Laura Tupou is a Newshub reporter.