Review: Pussy Riot founder’s guide to political activism
“Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism” (HarperOne), by Nadya Tolokonnikova
Power to the people: Where have we heard that before? In the 1960s, to be sure. And again today in “Read & Riot,” an invigorating new guide to radical protest by Pussy Riot founder Nadya Tolokonnikova.
Most of the world first heard of the punk art collective when Tolokonnikova and two others were arrested in an anti-Putin protest inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012.
Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, whose prison memoir, “Riot Days,” came out last year, were sentenced to two years in prison on charges of hooliganism.
Since their pardon in late 2013 as the Kremlin tried to clean up its image before the Sochi Olympics, they have traveled the world as global celebrities, speaking out about their ordeal behind bars.
Tolokonnikova’s stomach-churning description of the barbarous conditions of the labor camp where she was sent will resonate with activists in the U.S. protesting the penal system here.
She sees numerous parallels between the two countries — “When two people fight for a long time, they end up looking more and more alike” — and between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
She hopes to spark protest against “a cosmic rise in inequality, the global empowerment of oligarchs, threats to public education and health care, plus a potentially fatal environmental crisis” with a DIY spirit and “pirate” mentality.
The book is divided into a series of 10 “rules,” one per chapter, each accompanied by tactics and strategies and enlivened by quotes from some of her cultural and political heroes.
That’s a long list that includes Vaclav Havel and Noam Chomsky, Emmeline Pankhurst and bell hooks, Bernie Sanders and Diogenes the Cynic.
Tolokonnikova, a self-described nerd who has read widely and deeply, fairly bursts with all the energy and passion you’d expect of a bright, thoughtful idealist who’s not even 30.
She credits the Riot Grrls feminist punk movement of the 1990s for inspiration as well as the radical protesters of the 1960s, who took their fight for civil rights and against the Vietnam War to the streets.
Her joyously anarchic, radically egalitarian spirit recalls a revolutionary of that earlier era, Abbie Hoffman, whose 1971 manifesto, “Steal This Book,” offered tips on how to live for free and on the run.
While much has changed since Hoffman was the face of youthful rebellion, he would no doubt be smiling at a how-to section of Tolokonnikova’s book devoted to shoplifting in Moscow.