Yesterday was Day of the Imprisoned Writer. “An annual, international day intended to recognize and support writers who resist repression of the basic human right to freedom of expression and who stand up to attacks made against their right to impart information.”
In order to participate, I’m reposting a slightly modified piece from last August about my reaction to the Pussy Riot conviction. Although Pussy Riot’s provocative demonstrations were not rooted in the written word, freedom of communication and independent thought is at the crux of their work.
The Guardian has just published several letters written by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (of Pussy Riot) from prison to Slavoj Žižek. If you’re short on time, don’t bother with my post here, go read their letters. I’m immensely grateful that I did.
To those everywhere who stand up for freedom of expression, to those who sacrifice in the hope that someday compassion, intelligence and justice will prevail, I salute and thank you.
In February 2012, a group of artists who call themselves Pussy Riot staged a performance inside the male-only section of a Catholic church in Russia. The next month, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were arrested and held in prison to await trial.
The following August, they were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years each in a prison camp. What follows is my reaction upon hearing of their conviction.
When I was a girl, my best friend and I declared that someday we would protest the Vatican. This wasn’t anything to do with molestation or women’s rights; this was back in the 1970s. Our grievance was pretty basic.
See, when I was around seven years old, I attended a Catholic Mass with my neighbors*. Once there, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to take communion. I knew what they thought that meant–that I was not only inferior but also bound for hell–and that outraged me. At my Protestant church everyone was “saved” (it would be twelve years before I thought to ask, “from what?”). At my Protestant church, no one would have dared to presume that they stood between anyone else and God.
The Catholic church was different, though. At the Mass, I did as I was told; I remained seated and watched the ritual as everyone around me went up to the front and received the soul-saving snack. Even as a child, the pretense of it all amazed me, They think God’s planning to punish me. It was rather cruel if you believe the dogma, and plain rude from a secular perspective. I felt like standing up and yelling, “I don’t want your styrofoam discs anyway, you fucking fuck heads.”
Later when I told my best friend about this, we came up with our plan. We would take to the sidewalks of Rome and give the Pope a piece of our minds.
But we never did.
I wish I had paid attention and learned more about Pussy Riot before their conviction. I’m not disciplined enough to stay up on the news, not well-read enough, definitely not cool enough. Up until August 17, 2012, I don’t think I had said the word “pussy” out loud. Ever.
I wish I had studied more in school. Raised a ruckus. Made a difference. Spoke out.
But I didn’t.
When I’m at a show and the music really excites me, I love raising my fist and punching the air, but when I do, I crave a real-time airbrush to make my flabby triceps invisible to everyone around me. Poor body image haunts even my most wild moments.
But I’m not.
But I am highly mask-averse.
Late in 2011, I dipped my toes into the Occupy Movement. Unbeknownst to me until it was too late, the Ron Paulians commandeered the biggest protest I attended. I ran–literally ran–to avoid being associated with them. Ducked into downtown’s luxurious Biltmore for martinis because I’m addicted to comfort. And maybe alcohol. But definitely comfort.
Now, as I slog off to my day gig with make up on and minimally styled hair, I’m thinking with envy about the quick primp time of most men. The idea of masks is starting to make sense.
Where I’m going, the most excitement involves a mail box key and a letter opener. I will not be changing the world. I will not be performing premeditated hooliganism. I will not be pushing the light further into darkness.
But I will think of Pussy Riot: of Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.
And I will think of Ai Wei Wei, and Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning, and Nelson Mandela, and all the other people whose names I do not know yet.
And I’ll be grateful.
And I’ll ask myself, what’s next? What can I do to help?
*Those neighbors are like cousins to me. We still chat affectionately on FB. My feelings towards the Catholic Church have nothing to do with how warmly I feel towards those ladies.