Governments, especially those with autocratic sympathies, have reacted nervously to the courageously radical political imagination of their citizens. President Trump has labeled social justice activists as “terrorists” and said he wants to “dominate” them. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin believes that if you’re critical of him, you’re an enemy of the state and must be silenced.
In my country, Russia, the law enforcement system has been preoccupied for almost 10 years with arresting members of Pussy Riot. Our music videos focus on police violence, both at home and abroad, because we believe it’s a widespread problem that can only be solved by the combined efforts of activists around the world. In February 2015 we released our first English-language song “I Can’t Breathe” in memory of Eric Garner, who had died the previous summer after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold.
In August, the Russian government attempted to murder the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, a friend of mine, by poisoning him with a nerve agent. At around the same time in Belarus, the regime of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Mr. Putin’s buddy, was overseeing the arrest, beating and torture of peaceful protesters — which only made them more determined. When governments react with excessive force, as they have throughout the world, when they fail to protect peaceful protesters, it rightfully sparks more resistance. During 2020, anti-government protests and mass movements against police violence broke out in Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, Mexico, Britain and France.
Covid-19 has exposed cracks in the world’s political leadership, and made us question the economic, racial and gender inequalities we all live with. The way our governments have handled the pandemic has left many of us struggling for our economic and physical survival. In the United States, millionaires and billionaires have received massive tax breaks from the government, while far too many ordinary people have been left without access to affordable health care or enough money to pay rent.
The virus has sometimes limited our ability to protest in the streets, but we’ve learned new ways to perform our civic duties and have become more effective digital activists. Keeping in mind the possible damage that social media can cause to our mental health, we’ve been working on something I call “internet hygiene,” the principled use of digital tools. Today, images and videos distributed online have an extraordinary ability to counter propaganda, fake news and the arrogance of those in power, with simple but telling visual facts. In Belarus, the Nexta channel on the popular messaging app, Telegram, plays a vital role in the resistance to Mr. Lukashenko’s autocracy. Pussy Riot’s media agency Mediazona and Mr. Navalny’s YouTube channel “Navalny Live” are changing the minds of millions of Russians by exposing the corruption, incompetence and cruelty of Mr. Putin’s political system.
Our future has yet to be written. When Pussy Riot writes new music, we ask ourselves: What will activist punk sound like in 2030? What will it talk about? In the spring of 2021, Pussy Riot will release its first studio album “RAGE.” The songs on the record reflect on global issues such as public security, mental health and the relationship of citizens to their government.
Sustained, organized, creative, peaceful and smart activism will bring us closer to realizing a fully democratic world in 2021, and in the years to come.
Nadya Tolokonnikova is an activist, artist and musician, and a founder of the feminist band and art collective Pussy Riot. She is the author of “Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism.”
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: email@example.com.