Its not every day that you meet political prisoners (now released), who survived a 2-year sentence in a Russian prison. Yesterday I went to the Lensic theater (Santa Fe, NM) to see and hopefully talk to members "Pussy Riot". It was a two hour-event which brought a lot of things to light. The two band members Masha and Sasha were incredible.
Apart from being brave artists and rebels they are also just sweet young women who want to help other victims of Putin's political regime. The theater was packed and I suspect the recent U.S. elections have something to do with it. What I loved about their presentation is that they showed information about an ongoing resistance movement against Putin. And while it was just beyond inspiring, it was also heartbreaking to hear what they have to deal with. They also shared work by a Russian activist and artist, Pyotr Pavlensky, who set fire to Moscow's FSB HQ (ex-KGB).
Before I left Russia, I felt completely alone in my views and I absolutely had no idea that there was a resistance. I witnessed various unpleasant things which reinforced my decision to leave that place completely. Right now, to be honest, I am experiencing an element of survivors guilt, which I will have to work with. And I am using my graphic novel to not only bring to light what had happened Soviet/Post Soviet times, but also to share my journey as a bilingual, dual citizen, immigrant, who isn't ashamed to admit that my choice was to leave.
During Pussy Riot's Q&A there were questions about Trump's connection to Putin and the band members called their relationship a "bromance," which sadly seems to be the truth. There were also questions about what to do about the current political situation, if there is any advice they can give. And the women replied that as imperfect as it is, America still has democracy. People have more rights here than in Russia and many other countries, and we can act without fear of being imprisoned for simply speaking out and making a stand. I couldn't agree more, but also I would add that education and coordination are key. The more people know what their Constitution means, and the more people know about the struggles of Native Americans and other minorities, about social and economic inequality, and about environmental issues, the more refined and informed their actions will be.
Amazingly, one of the members of Pussy Riot, Masha, was actually able to win three out of four court cases which she brought against the prison for mistreatment - while she was still in the prison! If she can defend her rights in such a seemingly hopeless situation, so can we.
I was happy that I had a chance to ask a question at the event and to give Pussy Riot a present - two t-shirts which I designed right before the show. I call them "Pussy grabs back". I am sure this idea has come to many other artists. Nevertheless I had to do it! For me, the best recipe for difficult times is art, yoga, soul searching, and fundraising for human rights. If you are interested in buying this t-shirt, it will soon be available on my website or in person. All proceeds will go to the ACLU - American Civil Liberties Union.