The Cable

Washington punk rockers rally for Pussy Riot

More than 40 local punk-rock and arts community activists braved the sweltering Washington heat on Friday afternoon to demonstrate outside the Russian embassy in support of Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, whose members were arrested and jailed in February after performing a punk-rock prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ of the Russian Orthodox Church lambasting ...

Peter Cane
Peter Cane

More than 40 local punk-rock and arts community activists braved the sweltering Washington heat on Friday afternoon to demonstrate outside the Russian embassy in support of Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, whose members were arrested and jailed in February after performing a punk-rock prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ of the Russian Orthodox Church lambasting President Vladimir Putin.

Amnesty International, which organized the protest, has deemed Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tokokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samutsevitch "prisoners of conscience," since they have been charged with hooliganism and denied bail. The three women face up to seven years in prison and are scheduled to go on trial Monday in Moscow.

"We are very concerned not only for these three young women in their twenties who have been kept away from their families and their kids, but that this is a very chilling sign of what’s happening in Russia in terms of freedom of expression, and also that they have been denied due process rights," Amnesty’s chief of campaigns and programs Michelle Ringuette told The Cable. "It has stark implications for what kind of message is being sent."

The event began in front of the embassy, an imposing Soviet-style compound, with a rousing megaphone call of, "We won’t stay quiet, set free Pussy Riot," while participants marched around in circles holding fluorescent signs and photos of the three women to the beat of Washington punk-rock band Brenda’s Leah Gage drum.

Protesters, some wearing Pussy Riot’s signature brightly-colored balaclavas, were disappointed when federal authorities informed them that they had to stay off the brick driveway in front of the embassy and limit their activities to the sidewalk.

There were nonetheless speeches from Amnesty representatives, Brenda member Dave Lesser, and Mark Andersen of local punk activist group Positive Force, who rallied the protesters with his rousing indictment of Putin and the Russian government.

"The people who are inside this building need to understand that people are watching around the world,  and if Vladimir Putin wants to pretend to be a royal leader worthy of recognition or respect, he should act like it," Andersen shouted into the megaphone. "I have to say, I think it’s very strange that I have to stand in front of the Russian embassy to talk about something like this. I’m old enough so that I know all about what happened in the Soviet Union. That was supposed to be in the ashbin of history."

After Andersen’s speech, authorities moved in and told participants to move to a small park across the street, where local punk bands were supposed to stage a concert as part of the event. According to the protest’s Facebook page, however, some last-minute pushback from the Washington city government forced them to cancel it. After the move to the park and some more megaphone preaching, the fledgling protest died down as people began to disperse as Amnesty workers continued to circulate petitions.

No Russian authorities appeared on the scene at any point during the demonstration, but some drivers honked their horns, and onlookers across the street whipped out their cameras. It was unclear whether any of them actually knew what Amnesty was protesting, as most seemed bewildered by the young crowd wearing ski masks and demanding the band’s release. Even the members of Brenda had no idea who Pussy Riot was until they were invited to the protest.

"First, it all of it was we got a show, and then as we started to learn more about Pussy Riot and how much it sucks that you can be detained with the threat of seven years in prison, it became about supporting them," band member Dave Lesser told The Cable. "I think this process has been transformative, realizing that music isn’t necesssarily a right, it’s a privilege."

Even a few Russian citizens eventually showed up.

"I think Russia is a country that still struggles with the separation of church and state, and this is one of the cases that I think is very indicative of that," a Russian citizen, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Cable.

According to Amnesty’s Ringuette, the protest was only a part of a larger campaign to free Pussy Riot. She said the NGO is encouraging people to sent letters to the Russian embassy through its website.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola