Sunday, February 9, 2014

Feb Walks, Winter Olympics

I always enjoy the winter months in New York.  Yet, there are moments when a bad moon rises.

That bad moon was last night, watching the Olympic Ceremony when the Olympic logo did not quite rise. There is a bad moon rising in Sochi.

Earlier in the day, Google had made a point of highlighting the charter of the Olympics in rainbow letters, reminding us that the Olympic movement requires a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play, not just corporate sponsors and censorship of dissent.  

Reports of arrests of activists have already begun at the Olympics.  This pattern is, of course, not unfamiliar here, where while there are more freedoms, we still endure our share of crackdowns on free speech, as this rider with Times Up! experienced after our Pussy Riot solidarity bike ride in 2014.

The Olympics tell us something different more every year. My earliest memories of the Olympics always included cold war tensions.  But these tensions date back decades.  You can’t play a game while divorcing it from a larger question of what happens to the players in the everyday experience of their lives.  Jesse Owens famously challenged white supremacy at the 1936 Olympics, just as Pussy Riot and their supporters have challenged homophobia, misogyny and censorship this year.  

My friend Kenn Kidd and the others in Queer Nation would suggest there is very little different about Russia’s new anti gay law and the politics of 1936 in Germany.  They staged a rally at the Russian Consulate before the opening of the games.

Queer Nation Demo Marks Opening of Sochi Olympics
Vladimir Putin's Anti-Gay Laws and 
State-Sanctioned Anti-Gay Violence at Issue

New York, NY (February 6, 2014) -- More than 100 members of the gay activist group Queer Nation and others who oppose the Russian government’s continued attacks on human rights, including the rights of LGBT Russians, marked the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games with a raucous protest directly in front of the Russian consulate in New York City at noon today.

The protest included three people wearing Putin masks who dumped fake blood on the iconic five-ringed Olympic flag to underscore the International Olympic Committee’s complicity with the Russian government.

"We've focused on the IOC and how holding the Olympics in Sochi goes against everything in its charter,” said Queer Nation member Ken Kidd, referring to past Queer Nation protests. “We've focused on NBC and major Olympic sponsors like Coke and McDonalds, who pay lip service to equality while profiting from inequality and ignoring Putin’s human rights atrocities. Now we're once again laying our message right on Putin's doorstep. The whole world is watching -- literally. Putin can't hide his pogrom behind the sports page."

Among the protesters were gay Russians who have fled Russia and are seeking asylum in the U.S., members of RUSA LGBT, an organization of gay and lesbian Russian expatriates, students from Queens College, and members of Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. They chanted “Queer rights are human rights!” and “Gay bashing is not an Olympic sport!”; held “Putin heads” on sticks; and carried anti-Putin signs in both English and Russian.

Last June, the Russian government enacted legislation that effectively bans any pro-LGBT statement in public or private and on the Internet. In July, a law banning adoptions of Russian children by people from any jurisdiction that allows same sex marriage took effect.

Last year, the Russian parliament considered legislation that would allow the government to remove children from a household headed by a gay or lesbian parent. While that legislation has been withdrawn ahead of the Olympics, activists believe the parliament will reintroduce it after the Games are over. 

The anti-gay legislation’s passage has been followed by unprecedented, effectively state-sanctioned violence against LGBT people, who have been harassed, arrested, beaten, raped, tortured, and killed. Activists had called for a boycott of Sochi and for the Games to be moved from Russia, citing its abysmal human rights record, including its attacks on LGBT Russians.

The protest is the latest in a series of high-profile protests launched by Queer Nation dating to July 2013. They include December 12 actions at two NBC employee Christmas parties and earlier confrontations with Moscow government officials at meetings promoting US investment in Russia. The group has also targeted supporters of Putin performing at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall as well as “Russia Day” at the New York Stock Exchange.

Queer Nation has also targeted corporate sponsors of the Olympics, most notably Coca-Cola and McDonalds, through pointed, successful social media campaigns, including appropriating McDonalds' #CheersToSochi Twitter hash tag.

“The Russian government is on notice that the start of the Olympics is not the end of this fight," said Scott Wooledge, another Queer Nation member. "Overturning these laws and ensuring the rights of LGBT Russians is the only way for Putin to begin to repair that damage to his reputation on the world stage the passage of these laws has done."

Queer Nation is a direct action group dedicated to ending discrimination, violence, and repression against the LGBT community.

Video link to protesters pouring blood on the IOC flag:

1. Ken Kidd, Queer Nation member, (quoted above) at protest
2. Protesters with Putin masks
3. Protesters carry "Gay Bashing Is Not An Olympic Sport" signs
5. Bloody IOC flag in front of consulate

No credit necessary.
Twitter: @QueerNationNY.

These politics were very much on our minds walking over to the Barclays Center on Wednesday for the Amnesty International Concert.

Our friend Ron, a fair election advocate, invited us.

Madonna introduced Pussy Riot, lighting up the room, blasting the religious right, connecting censorship in Russia with attacks on expression and regressive politics here.  Madonna recalled her experience in Russia, playing there just days after the Pussy Riot verdict.  She was condemned there for “promoting homosexuality” something she proudly confessed she has done for a long time.

By the time, Pussy Riot took the mike, the room was in a frenzy.  I know they are human rights stars, but I hope they don’t abandon art or their masks. With the help of a high octane blast of idiotic censorship and oppression from Putin, they’ve translated their punk prayer into a message heard around the world.  Censorship anywhere is a threat to freedom of expression anywhere, they remind us, challenging all of us to take part in the fight against it.  It would be their last show as Pussy Riot. 

I love the snow and the winter.  After school, we strolled around, taking in a few of the sights of our gorgeous city, where our own punk prayer for a free city takes place every day.  We hope to live in a space where we can honor non competitive games, instead of win or lose spectacles, and spaces where people can say what they want, paint what they want, sing what they choose, and be who we are, without freedom fear of recrimination. 

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