“Under Putin we are up for another decade of brutal sexism and conformism as official government policies” -Tyura, Pussy Riot
At the end of 2011, Pussy Riot, a Moscow-based punk feminist collective, performed an illegal show on top of a building at a detention center where political prisoners were being held after participating in an unsanctioned protest of the recent election. Pussy Riot set off flares, hung a banner and sang their song calling for "Death to Prison/Freedom to Protest". This action was videotaped, eventually receiving over 60,000 views on youtube. In a later interview they named this as one of their favorite actions so far, explaining that, "Political detainees could see us from inside their prison cells and they chanted and cheered while we sang." They also claimed that the unit was put on lockdown afterwards because officials didn't know what to do when they realized they couldn't stop Pussy Riot from playing and feared they were about to takeover the prison.
In that same interview Pussy Riot discuss what would happen to them if they were imprisoned, suggesting that their anonymity insulates them as a group, regardless of what happens to them as individuals:
“We have nothing to worry about, because if the repressive Putinist police crooks throw one of us in prison, five, ten fifteen or more girls will put on colorful balaclavas and continue the fight against their symbols of power.”
In early March, just a few days before Putin's re-election, three women believed to be members of Pussy Riot were jailed for allegedly taking part in a "punk prayer" organized by the group at the largest cathedral in Moscow. This action took place on February 21, 2012 culminating in a videotaped performance of a song called Holy Shit. If internet translations can be believed, the song comments on the Russian Orthodox Church's ties to Vladimir Putin, comically calling on the Virgin Mary to become a feminist and join the movement to kick Putin out of office. The lyrics also point out the church's anti-gay, conservative agenda. One line states that "The ghost of freedom is in heaven, gay pride sent to Siberia in chains" another says "In order not to offend the Holy/ women have to give birth and love".
In my reading of this action, Pussy Riot were protesting the political agenda of the church and using humor, performance art and creative protest to call into question the relationship between the church and state in Russian society. The fact that three women allegedly involved were arrested and have been held without trial for the past month and a half shows that this action is considered a threat to the status quo in Russia. This story has remained in the news for several months, forcing a conversation about the role of religion in Russian politics and captivating the attention of an international audience.
Pussy Riot are organizing in Moscow but the struggle for the self-determination of women, LGBTQ rights, gender justice and political transparency is an international one. What can feminists living in other parts of the world do to show our solidarity with Pussy Riot? In thinking about this question, I want to think draw attention to what we have in common. Russia is still demonized in the west and I don't want my statement in support of Pussy Riot to feed into the post-cold war dichotomy of Russia=repression, USA=freedom.
I live in Olympia, WA. Thinking about Pussy Riot makes me want to tell people that there is a struggle against sexism and sexist oppression here. I am harassed on the street regularly by men I don't know. Men in my community are sexist towards women in my community. There is a struggle for access to birth control and abortion here. A local pharmacy refuses to carry Plan B, a legal form of birth control, because they believe that it violates their religious beliefs, which resulted in an organized boycott that led to a lawsuit that is currently in the federal court of appeals. In 2005, The Eastside Women's Clinic clinic was a victim of arson and subsequently denied insurance coverage, which led them to stop performing abortions. Today women who go to Planned Parenthood have to walk past anti-abortion right wing Christians who call women whores for going to the doctor. Sexual violence happens here and women who are raped do not have a criminal justice system that supports them nor does a viable alternative to the prison-industrial complex exist. Women don't have access to affordable childcare, healthcare, equal pay for equal work or wages for housework. Welfare and social services have been cut. Unfortunately this is just the beginning of a very long list.
I really like the fact that Pussy Riot are artists addressing political issues in the symbolic realm. I want to support them in this fight. They have invited us to join them; in their own words:
"Pussy Riot has to keep on expanding. That's one of the reasons we choose to always wear balaclavas—new members can join the bunch and it does not really matter who takes part in the next act—there can be three of us or eight, like in our last gig on the Red Square, or even 15. Pussy Riot is a pulsating and growing body. Do you know anyone who wants to come to Moscow, play illegal concerts, and help us fight Putin and Russian chauvinists? Or maybe they could start their own local Pussy Riot, if Russia is too cold and too far."
We are all Pussy Riot. April 15, April 19 and April 21 have been named days of action. Go to FREEPUSSYRIOT.ORG for more information. Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest! Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest! Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest! Free Pussy Riot! Free Pussy Riot! Free Pussy Riot!
Go here to read an article I wrote about them for eMusic