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The Pussy Riot protest manifesto

04-pussy-riot

Group member Nadya Tolokonnikova lays out her advice on how to get political in an increasingly volatile world

To celebrate our anniversary, we’ve created a series of articles around the idea of freedom featuring some of the cultural iconoclasts who have defined the last 25 years of Dazed. Head here to read them all.

The rise of isolationism and a right-wing government in the UK, waves of racist police brutality in the US, a refugee crisis appallingly handled by the West and a generation economically paralysed by reckless mistakes we didn't make – it seems that there’s never been more to stand up and protest about. But in a post-change.org world, it’s easy to forget the tangible force of a physical political protest.

When they rose to notoriety in 2012 after being arrested for staging a protest in a Moscow Cathedral, punk agitators Pussy Riot didn’t just inject culture with direct calls for gender equality and equal rights for LGBT people. Their fluro balaclavas and part-art performance, part-activist ideology inspired a generation of Tumblr-raised feminists to take their activism offline, while the group’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude and resilience against a dictatorship became one of the defining symbols of protest in the 21st century.

We met with Nadya Tolokonnikova, one of Pussy Riot’s original members, to lay down a protest manifesto for today, covering everything from the internet and fashion as a political weapon, to anti-capitalist activism and the importance of self-care. Read it below.

RECOGNISE THE POWER OF POPULAR CULTURE

“I can see more and more politics in modern popular music and I like it. I like what Beyoncé does, she really helps to empower women. A lot of people will criticise her for being ‘a pop star who’s just using feminism’ but I’m not with them. I adore her for what she’s doing for female empowerment. I think politics are coming back to music but we don’t know how to execute it because we’re just at the beginning of this new process – the politicisation of pop music.”

GET OUT OF YOUR BUBBLE

“First of all you’re not living in a small town, you’re living in the universe and­ it’s a pretty big place. There are a lot of people on the planet and you can move. I mean if you’re not in jail and if your hands are not tied up you can always move. You have a phone, you have letters, you have doves. It is an eternal problem of the Western world that you only focus on your own issues. It’s pretty natural, but sometimes it’s good to look around at those countries who have other types of problems as sometimes doing so can help you overcomes your own fears. It’s good to think big sometimes.”

USE THE TOOLS AT YOUR FINGERTIPS, BUT ACCEPT THEIR LIMITATIONS

When I was a kid living in a small provincial Russian town, I learnt a lot about contemporary art through the internet and it influenced my perception of the world hugely. If you use the internet in the right way, with the right personal internet hygiene, it can be a really helpful tool. It’s a pretty Western thing to overthink the whole idea of the internet. It’s a good medium – but if people have a sincere wish to start a revolution they will do it with or without the internet. You have to have this wish inside of you, and if people are not ready for big changes the internet will not help them to do that.”

BE MORE RADICAL THAN CORPORATIONS

The popularisation of modern feminism is not the worst thing that’s happened to the fight for equality in the last century. It depends on perspective. I guess it could be pretty irritating, but if you’re an activist from Russia and you look at our average advertisements you’ll actually want Russian capitalism to embrace some feminist issues. So, I think it’s a good process, but you have to be aware that it’s going on and that some companies don’t really mean to help women. As an activist, you just have to think beyond it and raise another more radical, or strange, weird, unusual question.”

IDENTITY IS EVERYTHING

We are fighting for the new politics of identity, we’re fighting for another type of society and it is a big question how we should present it and what it could look like. I really appreciate what’s going on in the fashion world right now. To be a model today compared to being a model 10 years ago are two super different things; today more and more models try to create their own feminist organisations. We are part of a big and important process where women will really rule the world and hopefully we will see that in our own lives.”

DON’T STIGMATISE OTHERS

The first thing that activists should do is not stigmatise. That’s what everyone else is trying to do to us all the time, and if we just continue to stigmatise within our own communities it will just happen again and again. Don’t reject people that want to help our cause, I know many people who will just reject anyone that doesn’t look exactly how they want them to look. I feel it’s a big problem in some activist circles.”

LOOK AFTER YOURSELF

It’s about your emotional hygiene, and remember it’s not just tough to be an activist. All of these people you may not like, who are running big capitalist organisations, they have these problems too and sometimes they don’t get what they want. It’s just how human nature is structured, we just have to live with it. Think for a moment that it’s not just your problems, somebody else faced the same thing and it will be easier to deal with.”

APPRECIATE YOUR COMMUNITY

Community is almost everything because you are creating a small world. You want the whole world to change into what you’ve created, so you have to test it with your community to see if it works or not. If it works it’s so exciting and makes you feel like a superhero. It gives you the power, to fly, to leave, to create, to rally and do whatever. Yes, the world is a pretty scary place but first of all we have each other. The second thing is that to fight our own fears is the most exciting thing in the world, it empowers us, makes us think bigger and makes us stronger.”

LEARN WHEN TO SAY NO

Feminists speak about this quite a lot, but mostly it has sexual connotations. It’s really important to say ‘no’ if you want to say ‘no’ in a sexual context, but it’s not just about that. Women were taught that they couldn’t say no to almost everything. But you can, you can say ‘no’ when you want to. For centuries men were sat in their rooms, writing their so-called ‘genius’ literature or music – they were the ones that could say no, and women were the ones cooking their food, housekeeping and taking care of children. We still need to find this courage to say no. Give yourself permission to say, ‘Today I just care about my art, nothing else. Today I care just about my politics and I don’t have to feel guilty because I’m not emotional enough to deal with it.’”

NEVER FORGET TO HAVE FUN

Just be with your friends, make fun of them – never forget to have fun because it may sound pretty cheesy, but it’s still true for activists too. Sometimes everyone is so serious and so heroic when they are doing their thing that they forget they have permission to have fun. When you have such a supportive community you won’t have these big scary questions about the world. You and your friends will draw a giant dick on the forehead of Donald Trump and the world won’t be so scary for you anymore.”