Pussy Riot Brings More Than Music To A Soldout Turf Club

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Saturday night, the Turf Club in St. Paul played host to what have become known as a Pussy Riot rally. The Pussy Riot rallies are part music, part art, part political rally, part Q&A and more. Last night’s Pussy Riot rally was probably unlike any other of their rallies – because each event, each rally is tailored to that city.

Last night Nadya Tolokonnikova , founding member of the art collective Pussy Riot, put together an all-star line-up of local activists to open up the evening. Kicking off the evening with a powerful speech was Sam Pree-Stinson – Senior Policy Aide to Phillpe Cunningham. Many of course know Cunningham as a  current member of the Minneapolis city council person for Ward 4 and one of the first openly transgender men (and person of color) to be elected to public office is the United States. Pree-Stinson herself has quite the impressive resume – she is a Green Party Endorsed City Council Candidate for Minneapolis Ward 3 and is a US Army Veteran who served in Afghanistan as a Combat Medic Sergeant. She’s gone on to work with Corinthian Colleges, Medtronic and the African Descent Network. She is a resident of NE Minneapolis and a mother to three “African Princes,” as she put it last night.

“I am so honored to be here. I got a message on Facebook from Nadya and at first I thought it was some messing with me,” Pree-Stinson said. “I thought I was going to get here and my name wasn’t going to be on the list,” she went on. “I wrote a speech, but then I threw it away and wrote another one,” Pree-Stinson joked. She went on to give a powerful speech that touched on various social issues that ranged from local to global. She beautifully, eloquently and gracefully shed light on issues of race, gender, police brutality, gun violence, environmental issues and more. Pree-Stinson poignantly charged the crowd at the Turf Club to “own their bullshit,” and recognize those biases, misconceptions, misunderstandings, apathy, complacency that is so easy to fall victim to. She reminded the crowd that many of the issues that our society is currently facing, both locally & globally, is not about doing what is right, but doing what is just. Pree-Stinson speech was the perfect kick-off the evening and a reminder to continue fighting for what is just.

Following Sam Pree-Stinson speech was what might have been the highlight of the evening, even more than the Pussy Riot performance itself – a Q&A with Nadya Tolokonnikova , moderated by Tommy Franklin – a local, prison activist & co-creator and co-host of the Weapon of Choice Podcast, “podcast where creatives across mediums give us insight into the weaponry of their art.” Franklin and Tolokonnikova  both spoke about their time in prison – Franklin here in Minnesota and Tolokonnikova in Russia. Tolokonnikova spoke about art and music as their weapon of choice in fighting injustice in Russia and around the world. Dawned in her signature neon-ski mask, Tolokonnikova  (whose real name is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova), spoke on everything from her experience in the Russian prison system, to Valdimar Putin to art & music to keeping a sense of “cynical hope” in hard times. Tolokonnikova is well-spoken, eloquent, systincity and incredibly wise. When you see pictures of Pussy Riot or watch their music videos, you expect a lot of chaos, but Tolokonnikova  is composed and calm when she speaks.

To say that the Pussy Riot rally at the Turf Club is timely would be an understatement. Tolokonnikova  shed light on the complex and often confusing political climate of Russia, which of course had undertones of its impact on our current political climate as well. When asked about her advice to activists in the U.S. she responded “I don’t know if I’m really in the place to tell Americans what to do about their politics,” and went on to talk about her and other members of Pussy Riot’s experience in Russia and other countries, but she reiterated that ultimately it’s up to Americans to figure out their best course of action.

To hear the full conversation between Franklin and Tolokonnikova , you can check out the Weapon of Choice Podcast which was live-streamed from the Turf Club on Saturday.

Following the Q&A, Pussy Riot took the stage for the musical part of their set. In the Q&A, Tolokonnikova  talked about how when they formed Pussy Riot, none of them knew how to play the guitar or any instruments for that matter, but knew they wanted to use music as their form of protest. That DIY, grassroots sound is evident in Pussy Riot’s sound, using a variety of samples and tracking. Pussy Riot’s live set is part music, part performance art, part political rally. They use music & visual art to make poignet and powerful statements about a myriad of social issues, all while still having fun. That is perhaps what was most striking about Tolokonnikova  and Pussy Riot -they’re real life warriors, combating injustice in Russia and around the world, yet can smile, laugh and joke along the way. Tolokonnikova spoke about the importance of still being able to have fun & laugh at the world. She spoke about her love for Tom & Jerry growing up and how that has carried about in her activism career. She refers to herself & Pussy Riot as in a game of cat & mouse with Vladimir Putin. That cynical optimism & humor is so prevalent in their music and live set. Throughout the set, Tolokonnikova and her fellow member of Pussy Riot flew a giant flag across stage that read “Pussy is the new dick,” and closed their set with “Straight Outta Vagina.” Their set also included “Police State” and their latest track “Bad Apples,” with came with a warning. “ “Hope you are not going to like our new track, since it’s dedicated to really disgusting things,” the band wrote. “Hope you will turn it off, go out and act.”

And the Pussy Riot rally was just that – yes an evening of education and music, but ultimately a call-to-action and a reminder to never stop fighting for the good and the just.

 

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