Yesterday, the three members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were each sentenced to  “two years deprivation of liberty in a penal colony” for “a grave violation of social order,” aka hooliganism.  Exasperating + exacerbating factors? “Complete lack of respect” for the church, an “imitaiton of demonic attacks,” and “homosexual propaganda.”  The actual criminal act? This Februray 21, 2012 mini-flash mob anti-Vladamir Putin song & dance inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Pussy Riot’s 90 second long punk prayer called out the Russian Orthodox Church for its hand in glove relationship with the ex-KGB-now-President Putin, an autocrat who has turned Russia’s political system into an oligarchy propped up by organized crime – a “virtual mafia state.”  The women  who joined Pussy Riot at the front of the Cathedral bypassed the worldly male hierarchy and appealed directly to the Virgin Mary, singing “Holy Mother, Blessed Virigin, chase Putin out!”

In handing down his two year sentences, the judge yesterday held that the women of Pussy Riot had not been engaged in political speech. Rather, their disruption inside Christ the Savior Cathedral was blasphemy, a crime.

Pussy Riot’s performance is reminescent of another disruption of an equally venerable church.  On a morning in December 1989, forty three members of the AIDS activist group ACT-UP put on their Sunday best and scattered themselves around New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  As Cardinal John O’Connor started the introductory rites of Mass, an ACT-UP member stood up in the aisle and yelled, “You bigot, O’Connor, you’re killing us!” He fell to the floor.  Another stood up and yelled “We will not be silent!” and he too fell to the floor.  One by one, the ACT-UP members stood up, yelled out, and crumbled into a death fall.   As the police carried out the protesters, the 5,000 demonstrators jamming up 51st Street  erupted into chants and cheers.

I heard about the St. Patrick’s action when it happened and thought, badass. But I didn’t appreciate it, not really, until years later, when I went inside the Cathedral.  The interior is the soaring kind of awesome that has you drop first into a whisper and then onto your your knees.  I imagine Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral is the same.  To disrupt even a tour guide, much less the friggin’ Cardinal doing his Sunday Mass thing, seems impossible.  Blasphemous.

Was it?

Yes it was.  And justified.  We’ve forgotten too quickly that at the outbreak of the AIDS crisis, the Catholic Church not only insisted that condoms are against God’s will, but engaged in an active campaign of lies to dissaude people from using them.  The World Health Organization had to put the smackdown on the Pope for instructing priests to give sermons – especially in African countries with the highest indection rates – about how HIV can pass through tiny holes in condoms.  The more ACT-UP pushed at the Pope, the more the Pope insisted.  ACT-UP’s blasphemous pushing changed how huge, previously unassailable institutions dealt with AIDS – the FDA, the CDC, and eventually, the Catholic Church.

Pussy Riot pushed too.  They pushed at Putin and he pushed back. In so doing, he’s given an emphatic Yes I am! to thier claim that his is an authoritarian regime.

At queerfit, we push ourselves and push each other.  In part  to get fit, etc. etc.  But also in part because the day will come when there’s some cathedral that you will need to go into and break all the rules.  You want to have had some practice doing things that make you gut wrenchingly uncomfortable.

In the meantime, since we are not Madonna, or Sting, or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, our support of Pussy Riot will have to be in the form of pushups and Hail Mary’ s of some sort.  10:00 tomorrow morning at our little park just north of the Inman Park/Reynoldstown MARTA station.  Be ready to punk rock it out.