THE BLOG
03/07/2014 04:45 pm ET Updated May 07, 2014

The Courage of Pussy Riot

The women of Pussy Riot were attacked again today. This time by six men at a McDonald's restaurant in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. They were attacked with garbage, pepper spray and green antiseptic, leaving them with chemical burns and head injuries.

This follows members of the performance-art collective, a lose membership of feminists, being whipped and beaten to the ground in Sochi, and two members served 21 months in prison for "hooliganism." They were released in those warm and sunny days leading up to the Olympics.

They are pro-feminism, pro LGBT rights and viscerally and vocally against the policies of Vladimir Putin. Given that those who oppose Putin have a habit of ending up shot, beaten or imprisoned, taking him on is risky. Clearly, this guy doesn't play.

The continued highly public opposition by the shifting members of Pussy Riot shows that courage can come in unusual packages. We've seen in before in our own past: Rosa Parks, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Sanger. These and others were women who took great personal risk for strong personal belief -- all going against popular opinion.

In our world, support for causes like gay and women's right might cost you political points or get you slapped around on social media. The battlegrounds are most often-sedate Congressional chambers, speeches or media interviews.

In the world of Pussy Riot, the risk is freedom, injury and even their lives. Their battleground is the streets and the suffocating glass cages in absurd show trials.

They know, too, that while the West will issue statements and dedicate songs at rock concerts, our moral outrage is not a whole lot of protection against a man who shrugged off the West's geopolitical outrage when he, again, invaded a neighboring country.

Making their stand even more courageous is the fact that their protests are not a rallying point for a groundswell of support. While there is certainly anti-Putin sentiment, there is also solid support. He was wildly popular in the oil fueled good times of his first two terms. His support waned for a time, but snapped back after Sochi and the Ukraine invasion. Almost 68 percent of Russians now support his job performance.

Pussy Riot is also up against popular opinion in one of their central protest planks, gay rights. While the West was shocked by Russia's anti-gay legislation, a Pew Research poll found that most Russians were just fine with it. Almost 75 percent of Russians said homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

Public opinion also runs strongly against the group itself. Two-thirds of Russians polled about the jail sentence for staging a Putin protest performance in Moscow's Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior felt two years was either correct or too light. The protest at the Sochi Olympics -- a source of great national pride -- didn't help their standing.

The refrain of one of their songs "Putin Got Scared " calls for Russians to "set free the rage of civil anger."

There is no rage or anger. There is little support. And, yet, they continue -- against a man unafraid to squash them with his heel, in a climate where even going out for a meal at McDonalds risks organized attack.

I don't know if I understand their goals -- like Occupy Wall Street, they appear to be less a movement and more a lose collection of ideals. I question their tactics in violating a place that so many Russians hold so dear.

But I do admire their courage. It's a kind we seldom see.

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