Nadya Tolokonnikova was born in Russia a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now she is speaking truth to power in a nefarious world which she categorizes as being rife with inequality, the global empowerment of oligarchs, threats to public education and health care, and a potentiality fatal environmental crisis.
She comes to these views from long-time research and years of activism. She is a founding member of the Russian punk-rock art collective Pussy Riot, which garnered international attention when several members were sent to jail following a performance in the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior. She is the recipient of the LennonOno Grant for Peace and is a corecipient of the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought. After her release in 2013, she founded Zona Prava, a prisoners' rights nongovernmental organization. Later, she started MediaZona, an independent news service now partnered with The Guardian.
In this unconventional guidebook, Tolokonnikova presents "some rules, tactics, and strategies I have found useful in my own life." She offers rules, ample quotes from a wide variety of sources, and deeds to do to put hearts, minds, and legs to her ideas. Her imaginative activism is informed by spiritual practices we hold dear: attention, gratitude, justice, openness, questing, and wonder. Here are some of our take-aways from this inspiring manual.
1. Be a Punk.
Journeying on the artistic activist path enables the author to find her life and experiences as constantly surprising. As she puts it: "Being a punk means systematically changing the image of yourself, being elusive, sabotaging cultural and political codes."
2. Get in Sync With Subversive Heroes.
Among her controversial heroes are Diogenes, the ancient philosopher who coined the term "citizen of the world," Michel Foucault, Vaclav Havel, Daniel Berrigan, bell hooks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other out-of-the-box critical thinkers.
3. Take Back the Joy.
"Seduce your hangman into your beliefs. Make prison wardens your friends. Win the hearts of those who support the villain. Convince the police that they should be on your side." While serving a two-year prison term for wild and uncivilized behavior, Tolokonnikova intensifies her fight for life and her respect for freedom. Rather than just shunning her oppressors, she invites them to see her and her views differently.
4."We Have to Create Ourselves As A Work of Art."
These inspiring words by Michel Foucault enable us to constantly reframe our days and deeds. Tolokonnikova admonishes us to see ourselves as both political and artistic animals animated by miracles! Be sure to check out her examples of ways to combine art and politics on page 80 such as a kiss-in, a die-in, and shopdropping.
5. Promote the Culture of Revolt.
The spunky author points out that our cultures demand action: "There are cultures of eating, film viewing, and book reading, and there is the culture of revolt, the ability to pose awkward questions, cast doubt on things, and change them."
6. Prisons Increase Crime.
Present-day prison industrial complexes in the United States and in Russia dehumanize inmates while extracting profits for owners. Historian Howard Zinn has observed: "It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity."
7. Revitalize Your Ability to Envision and Create Alternative Futures.
Tolokonnikova proves to be a hopeful analyst of social movements when she advises: "In addition to resistance, create unorthodox, unconventional models, mores, institutions. Revitalize your ability to dream, to envision and create alternative futures. The inability to dream makes us shortsighted. The most radical act of rebellion today is to relearn how to dream and to fight for that dream."
8. "We Can Only Be the Revolution."
Those are the sentiments of the late great science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Here is the whole quotation: "You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere."
9. Go Do It: Tear the Fabric of Submission to Pieces.
Heading to the end-stretch the Russian activist advises: "No matter how you perform your acts of civil disobedience — rallying, occupying, painting, making music, or stealing and freeing animals from the zoo — go do it, tear the fabric of submission to pieces."
10. It's Up to Us To Reshape What Politics Is.
"Nothing will change if we prefer to sit around and complain that politics is boring and because it is boring we don’t want to take part in it. It's up to us to reshape what politics is. Take it back. Bring it back to streets, clubs, bars, parks."