A night with Maria Alyokhina and Alexandra Bogino of Pussy Riot
By Isobel Thieme
“Don’t you know that a wall has two sides and nobody is free?” – Pussy Riot in their EP “xxx”
Members of Pussy Riot spoke on a panel at the Oriental Theater, moderated by local journalists Bree Davies and Ru Johnson.
Pussy is a word I’ve seen and heard quite a lot lately, how it is “grabbed” and how it “grabs back,” for example. And now, Pussy Riots.
While I walked around the block-long line of people on Tennyson on my way into the Pussy Riot panel held at the Oriental Theater recently, I was happy to see so many women lining up – I don’t know about you, but I could use some girl power these days.
Truly, they could not have come to the US at a better time.
The inside of The Oriental seemed to ring with a certain sense of desperation–but not the kind we feel when we’re simply waiting in the crowd for the lights to dim, the band to come on stage, and the music to start. It was heavier, characterized by a need, a cry for help. The last few weeks in the US have opened up the floodgates for so many questions and uncertainties about our country’s government–in my case, anyway–and here we were presented with the chance to hear from two women who have helped to start a vital conversation around the government in their own country of Russia. Truly, they could not have come to the US at a better time. What could we learn from these women who have dedicated their lives to activism? To changing an outdated patriarchal, corrupt system – through music, nonetheless? I, and I think many others, took Masha and Sasha’s visit as an opportunity to listen and learn how best to move forward in our own situation.
Feminist Punk Rock Protest – and more
Photo: Mike McGrath (mcgphotos.com)
The female warriors who are Pussy Riot are often armed with bright neon dresses, tights, and balaclavas, their loud musical instruments, and their refusal to be quiet. Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk rock protest group based in Moscow, known for their intentionally disruptive performances in public spaces. Specifically, they broke through US media for their performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, for which two original members were arrested for “hooliganism” and imprisoned for two years afterward.
In every way, Pussy Riot demands to be recognized.
As a band, Pussy Riot is inspired by other punk, thought-provoking, music makers, like Angelic Upstarts and Bikini Kill. But, in truth, there is no band out there quite like Pussy Riot. Their creation stems from an oppressive and patriarchal dictatorship which violently condemns any form of political resistance. Sasha told us that those who live in Russia can easily be put into prison for political opinions they might post on Facebook (imagine how many more new babies, kittens, and reports of bagel-eating we would see if that was the case in the US).
As we know, social media is an incredible platform for activism and social justice, albeit an easy, incomplete platform – as one can be an ‘activist’ anywhere from an airplane to their own toilet. But Pussy Riot saw the dormancy of social media for social justice. Beyond that, Sasha talked to us about the fact that the authorities in Russia don’t see sanctioned rallies as a threat to their power, so they simply ignore them. Any voices that come out of those kinds of rallies or protests go more or less unheard by the government. So, the rallies and performances which are not sanctioned are an essential piece to the Pussy Riot movement.
They’re disruptive, unsolicited, and absolutely demand attention
Photo: Mike McGrath (mcgphotos.com)
Pussy Riot knows how to be heard by the audiences they are targeting, simply because they don’t have any other choice but to be loud. The kind of performance art they participate in is intrinsically disruptive, it’s unsolicited, and it absolutely demands attention. Not only that, but it’s provocative. The name of their movement was inspired by wanting to make those who heard, spoke, or wrote about them feel uncomfortable, just by having to use the word “pussy.” These warriors are fearless – they are constantly pushing beyond the boundaries which are built around them with feminism, activism, and progression in mind.
It was amazing to hear these women talk about how they have actively participated in developing a cultural shift in their country that could allow for sexual equality, the proper treatment of LGBTQ+ people and women in Russia, how they have redefined protest for themselves, how they have learned about the power of community. Pussy Riot is a special example of not just talking the talk but walking the walk. They don’t simply talk or argue about the ways in which they are oppressed by their culture and government, but they are actually doing something about it. Something real and something tangible.
“Every person has a choice, every choice is important, and if you choose to stay aside, you’re giving away an opportunity for action. So ACT.” – Maria Alyokhina
It’s easy to sit aside and watch, to scroll, like, comment, share, and retweet in this electronic bubble we’ve blown for ourselves, that is a given (like I said, you can be an activist from the comfort of your own toilet), but what choice are we really making when we do only that? Masha and Sasha both encourage the use of protest and street riots because “you see the eyes of people who are with you,” which can only work to fuel the fires of progression when and where we feel it is needed.
Truly, We all should Pussy Riot
As a young woman, it felt inspiring and rejuvenating for me to watch the way these women have taken control of their country’s situation in their own way—how they have harnessed the power inside themselves and from their community to call for change. Masha and Sasha’s story–and their presence–offered us incredible advice while we take our turn to call for our own change. We ought to refuse to be quiet about the things we believe in, we all ought to Pussy Riot.
Editor’s Note: While the reporting, photography, and writing for this report was done in a timely manner, Editorial staff experienced a set of circumstances that made production and publication impossible until now. The story and the event, however, as well as the prescient and vital opinions and observations of our author are no less valid and important today as they were when they were first produced–in fact, they may be more so, and becoming more and more relevant and true every day. DenverThread apologizes for the timing of publication. Check out another review of this important event.