Banned! Amy Scholder reads Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom at City Lights

Amy Scholder is the Editorial Director at Feminist Press. “Self-censorship is ultimately a much more powerful thing than any kind of censorship that comes from the outside. As far as fundamentalists or governments or other groups who are trying to stifle artistic expression are concerned, it’s certainly the preferred form of censorship: it’s cheap and silent and it works better than anything else. People we know have gone deep within themselves to deal with very serious themes or ideas, to reveal something—when that’s lost, it’s really frightening.” -Scholder.

PUSSY RIOT! A Punk Prayer for Freedom by Pussy Riot. Though this book was not banned, it does contain the letters and statements by the Russian punk band, whose members have been imprisoned for expressing their feminist views.

On February 21, 2012, five members of a Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot staged a performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Dressed in brightly colored tights and balaclavas, they performed their “Punk Prayer” asking the Virgin Mary to drive out Russian president Vladimir Putin from the church. After just forty seconds, they were chased out by security. Once a retooled video of the events circulated on YouTube (edited to seem much longer than the actual performance), the state was riled into action.

Three members of the collective, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, known as Masha, Nadya, and Katya, were arrested and charged with felony hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, an offense carrying a sentence of up to seven years. As their trial unfolded, these young women became global feminist icons, garnering the attention and support of activists and artists around the world, including Madonna, Paul McCartney, and Sting, as well as contributors to this book: Yoko Ono, Johanna Fateman, Karen Finley, Justin Vivian Bond, Eileen Myles, and JD Samson. The Internet exploded with petitions, music videos, and calls to action, and as the guilty verdict was anticipated, Pussy Riot responded with articulate, unwavering courtroom statements, calling for freedom of expression, an end to economic and gender oppression, and a separation of church and state. They were sentenced to two years in prison, and inspired a global movement. Collected here are the words that roused the world.

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