Reading about the conviction of Pussy Riot punk band members, the Russian activists who staged a music video in a Russian Orthodox church in protest and criticism of Putin, I was just as outraged as the rest of the world. These young women were sentenced to two years hard labor—for “hooliganism.”
This case, particularly the harsh sentence, has received international attention, with people all over the world, including celebrities, calling for the young women to be freed. As Moscow journalist Masha Gessen has pointed out, this attention has worked at least as far as improving the conditions the women are being held in as well as likely lessening their sentence, even if it did not lead to acquittal. Acquittal, according to Gessen, is rare in the Russian courts. Torturous conditions? Common. Sometimes even leading to death of pretrial defendants.
It’s very easy for the Western world to feel outrage at the rigged Russian judicial system, the fraudulent Putin-led government that the women were protesting, the outrageous treatment and sentencing, and less noticed but just as integral, the blatant mysogyny. For example, in Judge Marina Syrova’s ruling, she criticized the women for “embracing feminism.” And when Madonna called attention to the case at a concert, wearing a black bra with Pussy Riot stenciled on her back, the Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, called her a whore. On Twitter.
What I find interesting, however, is that this same outrage that comes so easily when looking at Russia seems to dissipate when looking at ourselves, particularly in the United States. But you know the old saying: When we point a finger at others, we have three fingers pointing back at us.
Election fraud and rigging, government-sponsored misogyny and mistreatment of women on multiple levels, stifling of free speech, attempts to align church and state, . . . We are experiencing all of the above and more, but where’s the outrage?
- Voter ID laws proliferate to disenfranchise voters, particularly minorities and women over 60. The ridiculousness of such laws are highlighted even more by county judges, city council members, and other high-profile citizens who are restricted from voting by these laws.
- I’ve discussed before the religious right’s war on women (here, here, and here), and this war is creating a culture where extreme views are coming out of the woodwork, as we can see from comments like Todd Akin’s on “legitimate rape.” This man who understands less about human biology than a ten-year-old sits on the House Science Committee. This is one of many examples of how the war on women hurts all of us as a nation, women and men.
- From the Patriot Act at the federal level to the ongoing efforts of local and state governments and school boards to censor teachers and textbooks from subjects that offend Christian (or, rather, a particular sect of Christian) beliefs, free speech and the separation of church and state are under constant barrage in the U.S.
I could go on and on finding parallels with what’s happening in Russia. But don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we should not vocally protest what’s happening elsewhere in the world. In fact, we should remember that we need to continue these protests long after the initial fires in our bellies have lessened.
This isn’t a “take care of our country first” admonition. We don’t have to choose between the world and our nation. It isn’t an either/or situation. It’s both/and.
Standing up for women, fighting theocracy, protesting political fraud of all kinds, demanding justice in the courts, protecting free speech—only when we are vigilant and vocal globally, nationally, and locally can we transform our outrage collectively into a force for lasting change.
Image credit: EPA/KERIM OKTEN