After serving six years of her 35-year sentence, Chelsea Manning was granted clemency by former president Barack Obama and will be released in May. For one Webster University alum, Manning’s release will be the end of a long journey.
Manning, a former army private, was convicted of 21 charges, including several for espionage, when she released thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Webster alumnus Clark Stoeckley, an artist and activist, has been advocating for Manning’s freedom ever since.
Stoeckley graduated from Webster University with his BFA in Alternative Media. He later moved to New York to receive his MFA in Performance and Interactive Media Art from Brooklyn College.
In March 2011, Stoeckley created the WikiLeaks Top Secret Mobile Information Collection Unit for a Chelsea Manning rally at the White House. The truck, emblazoned with the WikiLeaks logo, became a wellknown sight at protests.
In December, when Manning’s pretrial hearings began, Stoeckley said he drove the truck to the court martial held on Fort Meade, Maryland along with banners and signs for protests outside the military base.
“I attended those proceedings everyday, drawing everything I could and tweeting my illustrations during recesses,” Stoeckley said.
After 18 months of Stoeckley covering the pretrial as a courtroom sketch artist and blogger, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange connected Stoeckley with his publisher, OR Books, to make his sketches into a graphic novel. Stoeckley said he spent about six months finishing the drawings and choosing the most important snippets of testimony transcripts for his graphic novel, The United States vs. Private Chelsea Manning, that has since been published.
Jeffrey Hughes, the Hunt Gallery director, said in a previous article from The Journal that Stoeckley’s passion for the topic comes from his belief that art can be a form of political activism.
Stoeckley said many lawmakers and media outlets exaggerated and made false claims that Manning’s leaks caused harm to national security or the deaths of soldiers and sources.
“At no point during her trial did a witness substantiate these lies, and the prosecution certainly never proved it,” Stoeckley said. “I believe that WikiLeaks will continue to operate for a long time despite attempts from various governments to shut down the site, cut off their banking, run smear campaigns, extradite Assange, and prosecute them for conspiracy to commit espionage.”
Stoeckley said he hopes major leaks come out of the Donald Trump administration, as well as other governments around the world.
“I could not have foreseen that the issue of WikiLeaks was going to have such an enormous bearing on the course of recent American history,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he is convinced WikiLeaks influenced the election results, but still sees the merit of their actions.
“Personally, I find the question of Chelsea Manning difficult when it turns into state secrets,” Hughes said. “How are the American people going to know otherwise?”
“WikiLeaks has changed journalism and has inspired mainstream news outlets to develop anonymous submission platforms to stay relevant and compete with alternative media organizations,” Stoeckley said.
In a recent article in The Guardian, an online publication reporting on American and international news for a global audience, Manning wrote an oped stating that Barack Obama’s legacy is a warning against not being bold enough in progressive policymaking.
Stoeckley said he shares the same opinion as Manning. He said that the Republicans wouldn’t budge, but Obama was willing to compromise and negotiate.
“I firmly believe that America needs an unapologetic progressive leader to stand up to the right-wing conservatives who are unwilling to cooperate,” Stoeckley said.
In response to Manning’s oped, Trump took to Twitter to call Manning an “ungrateful traitor” who should never be released from prison.
Stoeckley’s Twitter reply: “She has done more to make America great than you ever will.”