BrooklynFans Of Books: “Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide To Activism”

Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide To Activism

By Nadya Tolokonnikova

HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; hardcover, $24.99; available Tuesday, October 9

Nadya Tolokonnikova is a conceptual artist and political activist from Russia and the founder of the art collective Pussy Riot. In 2012, she was sentenced to two years in prison following a performance against Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Shortly after she was released in 2013, Nadya created MediaZona, an independent Russian news service focused on Russian courts, law enforcement and prison system; and Zona Praya, a prisoners’ rights non-governmental organization (NGO).

Nadya created audio visual art such as “Make America Great Again” and “Police State,” and she has spoken before the United States Congress, the British Parliament, and the European Parliament. She has lectured as an honorary speaker at Harvard, Cambridge, the Glastonbury music festival, and is a Lennon Ono Grant for Peace Recipient.

Nadya has now written a timely guide to radical protest, Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide To ActivismIn it, she provides the words, actions, and inspiration to ignite the power of individuals to passionately resist and proactively plan a way to get the change they seek.

This renowned international activist draws on her own experiences to share her core principles for opposing authoritarian leaders and governments that threaten to suppress individual rights and freedoms.

“I may not be a president or congressman,” writes Nadya. “I don’t have a lot of money or power. But I will use my voice to humbly say that looking back on the twentieth century, I find nationalism and exceptionalism really creepy.

“Now more than ever we need to take back power from the politicians, oligarchs, and vested interests that have put us in this position. It’s about time we quit behaving like we’re supposed to be the last species on earth.

“The future has never promised to be bright, or progressive, or whatever. Things may get worse. They have been getting worse in my country since 2012, the year Pussy Riot was put behind bars and Putin became president for the third time.

“No doubt Pussy Riot was very lucky that we were not forsaken and forgotten when we were silenced by prison walls.

“Every single interrogator who talked to us after our arrest recommended that we (a) give up, (b) shut up, and (c) admit that we love Vladimir Putin. ‘Nobody cares about your fate; you’ll die here in prison and no one will even know about it. Don’t be stupid – say that you love Putin.’ However, we insisted that we don’t love him. And many supported us in our stubbornness.

“I often feel guilty about the amount of support people gave Pussy Riot. We had too much of it. There are many political prisoners in our country, and unfortunately, the situation is getting worse. Their cases don’t attract the attention they surely deserve. Unfortunately, prison terms for political activists are seen as normal in public consciousness. When nightmares happen every day, people stop reacting to them. Apathy and indifference win.

“The struggles, the failures, are not a good enough reason for me to stop our activism. Yes, social and political shifts don’t work in linear ways. Sometimes you have to work for years for the smallest result. But sometimes, on the contrary, mountains can be turned upside down in a second. You never really know. I prefer to keep trying to achieve progressive changes humbly but persistently.”

Nadya cuts through the pessimism, fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness in this empowering tool for civil disobedience that encourages people to question the status quo, reject the litany of injustices and refuse to let apathy take hold.

Above all else, Nadya wants to make political action exciting, approached with a sense of humor, and to make it a part of people’s daily lives.

In one part titled “Destroy The (Fourth) Wall,” Nadya writes, “How can I break the fourth wall that separates the artist from the audience?

“Breaking the fourth wall is a good and healthy thing to do. It’s a sign of real hospitality, an invitation to think and create together. Trust your audience, treat them as equals, involve every guest in a journey, an investigation, and a conversation. They are part of the work of art too.

“‘What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life,’ writes Michel Foucault. ‘That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?’

“You share your artistic responsibility with the audience. It’s political theater – it’s a theater of cruelty where nobody is just an observer. You’re breaking the society of the spectacle by turning a spectacle into society. The audience will be thankful to you. They’re also tired of being force-fed junk by the entertainment industry. They want to share responsibility. Freedom grows through pressure, so give them pressure. They want to be in your mob.

“We feel disconnected from reality. How can my little action possibly make any difference? If I could unite five or ten people through art, if I could make them believe in their power, that’s my prize and that’s my victory.”

Read & Riot is a fun read that fuses punk and positivity to create a culture of protest that inspires and connects, while giving readers actions, suggestions, and resources for creating an empowered movement of resistance.

For more information about this amazing artist and activist, visit ReadandRiot.com and wearepussyriot.com.

AUTHOR APPEARANCE IN BROOKLYN:

Nadya Tolokonnikova will be in conversation with Mona Eltahawy at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library, Dweck Center (10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238, (718)230-2100) on Tuesday, October 9 from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m.

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