Celebrities of all sorts extend Pussy Riot

When Aung San Suu Kyi visited Washington, DC last week to pick up the Congressional Gold Medal, she made time to meet not only with the president, Secretary of State, and leaders of Congress, but also the husband and child of one of the imprisoned members of punk protest bank, Pussy Riot.

Congress had awarded Suu Kyi its highest civilian honor in recognition of her brave, long, and very difficult struggle for democratic reform in Myanmar.  With the beginnings of what seem to be very serious moves toward reform, Suu Kyi has only just been able to leave her home country and stop by to pick up the medal, awarded in 2008, nearly two decades after she was placed under House arrest by Myanmar’s military government, and seventeen years after she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Daughter of the assassinated commander of the Burma Independence Army, Suu Kyi started life with wealth and status that she deployed in the struggle for democracy.  Her visibility, coupled with physical courage and commitment, and a consistent and articulate moral position, enabled her to survive 15 years of house arrest, drawing attention to the violations of human rights in Myanmar.  (Take a look at the brief biography posted at the Nobel Prize site for more detail.)  In a moment when there is little common ground between Republicans and Democrats, there was universal acclaim for Suu Kyi in Washington.  Senator John McCain (Arizona Republican) described her as his hero.

Suu Kyi is now a member of parliament, but the transition to democracy in Myanmar is far from complete.  Still, Suu Kyi obviously sees her struggle as somewhat broader.  At an event sponsored by Amnesty International, she called upon the Russian government to release (video) the members of Pussy Riot, who project a somewhat different image than the Nobel laureate.

When an outsider gains recognition from authorities, there is always a challenge about how to use the newly acquired publicity and resources.  It’s easy for some to forget the years on the outside–or in prison–while enjoying new access to power. And it’s risky to extend the struggle to potentially less popular fronts.

Suu Kyi’s decision to share her spotlight, her credibility, and her struggle with the young women of Pussy Riot reflects her ability to see commonalities that others might miss.  Their struggle, she said explicitly, is her struggle, and it is for human rights and democracy.  Her efforts will be an asset for the band, providing publicity and likely some comfort and hope during a difficult time.

I was reminded of the words of Eugene Debs, an American socialist sentenced to ten years in prison for opposing US entry into World War I and encouraging young men to resist the draft:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Supporting Pussy Riot may be the least important thing that Aung San Suu Kyi has done for democracy in Myanmar, yet it provides a very clear indication to the rest of us about the way she sees the world and her life.  She’s a hero.

Pussy Riot continues to garner other support as well.  Yoko Ono presented the “LennonOno Grant for Peace” to Pyotr Verzilov and his 4-year old daughter, Gera.  They are husband and daughter of Nadia Tolokonnikova, one of the three imprisoned Pussy Riot members.

Yoko Ono’s support is also extremely valuable to Pussy Riot’s members, as well as to other democratic reformers in Russia, even if her path to celebrity was somewhat different from Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s.

Both women have been able to move far faster than governments.

Advertisements

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Celebrities of all sorts extend Pussy Riot

  1. Wow, well written and great closing statement. That is a great point…and for some odd reason I was surprised or maybe just disappointed to not hear anything from the political arena about the Pussy Riot group.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s