People of western democracies can learn a lot from the riot grrrl art collective

pussy riotTwo years ago this February, five members of the Russian anti-Putin art collective known as Pussy Riot performed a “punk prayer” at the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. The song they belted out was a plea for the Virgin Mary to remove Vladimir Putin from power just weeks before his re-election.

Days after the demonstration, three of the members were arrested, charged with “hooliganism” and denied bail. After a speedy and one sided trial, Judge Syrova found Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced them to two years in prison.

The three women had insisted there was no intention of offending Russian Orthodoxy, but wanted to bring attention to the church’s close ties to the state. “Our goal was to bring attention to Father Kirill’s public statements that the Orthodox must vote for Putin,” Alyokhina wrote in a lettered statement “I thought the church loved its children. It turns out the church only loves those children who believe in Putin”.

A little over two years later to the day, during the middle of the Sochi Olympics, Tolokonnikova & Alyokhina along with three other members of the group attempted twice to film a video for a song called “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland.” On the first attempt, they were arrested along with 15 others before they got a chance to play. The next day the group was beaten by uniformed Cossacks working in a security capacity for the Olympics.

pussy riot, Tolokonnikova & Alyokhina
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova

This time around, Pussy Riot was protesting corrupt Olympic officials, the plight of an arrested environmentalist and suppressed freedoms in Russia in general. Putin has taken to raiding the houses of anti-Putin activists and anti-corruption bloggers. He has also passed several laws including one that raises the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration to about $7000 USD. Of course we’ve all heard of Russia’s LGBT propaganda law.

With the exception of the Russian church and a Russian populace force fed news from state television, what Pussy Riot does in the eyes of many are simple acts of civil disobedience. Actions taken to try and educate the Russian public on Putin’s abuses of power and a Catholic church with close ties to him.

Pussy Riot have been imprisoned for singing in a church. They have had their music videos, live blog and website banned under an anti-extremist law (their lyrics do not call for extremist action). Now to add injury to insult they were briefly hospitalized after the Cossack attack. Despite it all, they keep fighting because they know what’s right.

Pussy Riot knows full well what the consequences are, given Putin’s reputation, but they do it anyway. This band of activists has a passion for the welfare of their country, a deep desire to make it better. What they do takes guts, something sorely missing in western democracies.

We don’t face the same problems as the people of Russia or similar places, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and enjoy the ride. To quote an American punk/metal band; “the greatest weapon of a fascist is the tolerance of a pacifist”. Those lyrics were written over twenty years ago, but resonate more in North America today than when they were first sang.

Today we live in a country where the people take a backseat to corporate power. A new authority determined to siphon as much profit from the masses as it possibly can at the expense of the environment, our health and our very well-being. To make matters worse, it is doing so with the help of our governments.

The occupy movement brought this fact to light a few years back, but at the same time, local governments were quite effective in dispersing the crowds and the momentum the 99 percent created. Awareness is only a stepping stone however; sitting in a park will never end decades of growing corporate dominance. What we need to do is follow in Pussy Riot’s example, sometimes a simple act of civil disobedience can galvanize a movement—look at Rosa Parks.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Let “Pussy Riot” be our ever reminding model for bravery & dedication In our acts of civil disobedience & standing up to the machine, even when it seems most hopeless!

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