Six Arrests At Free Pussy Riot March Today

Categories: Pussy Riot

Pussy_Riot_Protest_NYC_Muncy_0020.jpg
C.S. Muncy
Supporters of Pussy Riot on the Upper East Side this morning.
Last night, supporters of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot packed Liberty Hall for a reading in support of the three band members on trial for "hooliganism."

This morning, the band's supporters kept the momentum rolling, with demonstrations outside a Russian Orthodox church and the Russian Consulate, followed by a march down Madison Avenue to Times Square.

Today's actions were timed to correspond with the sentencing of the band members. A judge found them guilty late last night, New York time, and sentenced them to three years (minus the five months they've already served) in a hearing today.

For some observers, the remarkable outpouring of support for Russian political prisoners by Americans only pointed up our unwillingness to tackle thornier issues closer to home.

"'Supporting' #PussyRiot sounds like a lovely riskless way to pretend to fight against someone who doesn't threaten you," political writer Matt Stoller said in a series of tweets this morning. "Putin is a geopolitically acceptable enemy, so go #PussyRiot!"

But organizers of the New York events rejected that critique.

"Obviously this is a window into the Russian government, where there's so much less of a separation of church and state than what the States has," said JD Samson, who performs with Le Tigre and Men and helped organize the New York Free Pussy Riot events. "But it's also a window into the States in the same way -- we're still sparked by these events. The climate in the U.S. has been ramping up with protests happening and with Occupy happening last year. Yeah, it's died down a little, but I think people are still wanting something to voice their minds about, and this is another one of those things."

Robert Lieber, one of the coordinators of FreePussyRiot.org, attributed the international upwelling of support for the band to their presentation as almost cartoonish rock-and-roll everywomans, masked in brightly-colored knitted balaclavas.

"They're these sort of unknown, masked characters, a sisterhood of superhero figures," Lieber said. "That's something that artists and feminists everywhere find it very easy to get behind."

Just as responsible for the global response, Lieber said, has been the Russian state's own overreaction -- extending the pre-trial detention period and then keeping the defendants in a glassed-in cage throughout the trial while patrolling the courtroom with police dogs.

"The government has been making this issue bigger," he said.

Now that the three women -- two of whom are mothers with young children -- have been sentenced, Lieber said the goal of his organization will be to keep pressure on the Russian government. The European Court of Human rights has agreed to fast-track an appeal brought by the defense team.

But as the band members' own closing statements made clear, their conviction is also a sort of victory.

That ambivalence carried over into today's New York protests, which carried an air of celebration even as six people were arrested by the NYPD -- some for wearing Pussy-Riot-style masks, others for bicycle-mounted sound systems, others for disorderly conduct.

"Today is a sad day," Samson said as the march streamed down Madison Avenue past perplexed pedestrians. "But it's also really beautiful because it's a day of revolution, and the women in jail right now are strong and they're in a good place. They feel like they've won."

If you haven't seen it, here's the performance that led to the Pussy Riot trial: a stunt rendition of their song "Punk Prayer," which attacks Vladimir Putin's cooption of the Orthodox church, performed in front of the iconostasis of the main Orthodox church in Moscow:

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