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Free Pussy Riot!

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Punk rock roared across the globe as I started college in the late 1970s. Punkers protested their disco-loving, Baby Boomer siblings as much as “The Man”. UK punkers tapped into deep frustration among a younger population struggling for identity and future in face of global economic uncertainty.

Punk music then is much different than now. Then it was a lifestyle choice rooted in rebellion. Today, for bands like Green Day, punk, and all its garnishments, is fashionable. Mascara, colored hair, and tattoos are about fitting in to a larger, accepted social group. The real energy behind bands like the Sex Pistols is gone.

So it is refreshing to see—but the outcome around them disappointing—Pussy Riot, whose music is raw like early Punk and protests fiercer. On August 17, a Russian court sentenced the three publicly-known members, Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, to two years in prison for “Hooliganism”.

Pussy Riot protest “Punk Prayer” at Moscow’s main cathedral in February led to the three women’s arrest and trial. Band members typically wear brightly-colored balaclavas to protect their identity; in view of the verdict, obviously for good reason.

Their repertoire is “six songs and five videos“—one of them released just hours before Friday’s verdict. I wouldn’t call any of it great music, but neither was “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols”. It’s hard punk; you either have a taste for it or you don’t (I do).

Pussy Riot’s success is more about timing, with music releases coming at critical junctures during Russia’s last election, which brought Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin back to power and cries of rigged elections (massive protests followed, and during the notoriously bitter Russian winter).

The band captures anger and outrage, much like its Western punk forebears more than three decades ago. Global protests against the verdict started in earnest on August 17. Amnesty International has the best tagline (and it may have come from somewhere else): “Punk rock is not a crime—free Pussy Riot!“. The photos here are from a UK protest.

It’s easy for me to say “free Pussy Riot”, sitting comfortably in my Southern California apartment with middle-age gut. But I am with the women in spirit, as little support as that really is.

The Guardian has best ongoing news coverage. Some recommended stories:

Photo Credit: Sean Comiskey/Eyes on Rights

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