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Sandi Bachom

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Pussy Riot, Putin and Pole Vaulting

Posted: 08/22/2013 3:00 pm


On February 21, 2012, Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk rock band, festooned in primary colored ski masks called, 'balaclavas' stormed the security guards at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior and staged a guerrilla, anti Putin performance lasting... a matter of seconds.

That night, the music video, appeared on YouTube "Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!"

Their arrest for 'hooliganism' and subsequent incarceration, followed by harsh sentencing, of two years hard labor in a gulag, penal colony, sparking an international outrage, against oppression and cry for freedom of speech, and First Amendment constitutionality in this country. Of the three young women arrested, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina remain in prison, both mothers. Yekaterina Samutsevichthe was arrested and released on a technicality. All three became instant heroins as #FreePussyRiot was tweeted to millions by the likes of Madonna, Sting and Yoko Ono.

But across the pond, a bigger issue is brewing.

I spent a year filming Occupy Wall Street and was aware that the NYPD were arbitrarily arresting protestors who were wearing Anonymous (Guy Fawkes) masks...I was disturbed by this effectively trumped up ploy, so when three women protesting the sentencing of Pussy Riot, showed up at the Russian Consulate a year ago, and were arrested citing an arcane statute , the 1845 "Anti-Mask Law", it sounded like something out of the Gangs of New York.

A friend and somewhat of a New York historian, found this fascinating tidbit about the derivation of the law...

The obscure statute, which dates back to uprisings in 1845, when the price of wheat dipped:

After [landowner Stephen Van Rensselaer IV] moved to evict tenants, disgruntled farmers disguised themselves as "Indians," dressed in "calico gowns and leather masks" and attacked agents of the landlords. The court papers said the tactics adopted by these rebel groups ranged from "tarring and feathering" to murder, including a sheriff

It all boils down to economics and ironically, what they were fighting for at OWS. This is the actual wording of the law.

Penal § 240.35 Loitering. 4. Being masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration, loiters, remains or congregates in a public place with other persons so masked or disguised, or knowingly permits or aids persons so masked or disguised to congregate in a public place; except that such conduct is not unlawful when it occurs in connection with a masquerade party or like entertainment if, when such entertainment is held in a city which has promulgated regulations in connection with such affairs, permission is first obtained from the police or other appropriate authorities...

This Saturday, at the one-year anniversary of Pussy Riot's incarceration, in solidarity, Esther Robinson and Rebekah Schiller, arrested a year earlier, showed up at the Russian Consulate prepared! Donning their "balaclavas', their attorney, Norman Siegel, by their side, and a letter of injunction challenging the constitutionality of the draconian' 1845 Anti-Mask Law.

"As we notified the Office of the Corporation Counsel on Friday, August 2, 2013 our clients have authorized us to file suit on their behalf in the United States District Court in Manhattan to challenge New York Penal Law 240.35(4) as unconstitutional as applied to seek a preliminary injunction to halt its enforcement at the planned demonstration on August 17, 2013 in support of the punk rock band known as Pussy Riot..."

Has not Putin already tipped his hand as to his intentions for the 2014 Olympics and enforcement of the "Law against homosexual propaganda" with the Imprisonment of Pussy Riot? And what might be the correlation between the Anti-Mask Law on the books since 1845? A similarly archaic law.

I asked Esther Robinson, the reluctant revolutionary, what correlation she saw...

"I think they are actually all related. Fascism starts with curbing free speech protections and attacking/silencing those at the margins -- both through violence and through rule-of-law.

Gays, Artists and protesters are like canaries in the coal mine -- violence and laws aimed at curbing their activities are signs of growing unchecked power.

Obviously drawing attention to both is crucial. I think, though, that American's have grown complacent and like to believe these abuses are primarily happening in other countries. Where possible I think it's always important to show that these abuses are on a continuum-- and that our country is part of the problem as well...and those of us who can must fight back."

It was pointed out by a friend that Coke sponsored the 1936 Olympics, as they are sponsoring the 2014. I don't think the Putin government nor the sponsors of the Olympics, has any idea the level to which social activism has matured.

So, get your hashtags out, and, let the games begin....

 

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