READ & RIOT
If the world has real superheroes, you better count Nadya Tolokonnikova among them. In her breakout novel, “Read and Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism,” Nadya presents the world with a handbook on fighting your oppressors and vanquishing them in style.
In 2011, the year of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, Nadya took the world by storm flanked by her Russian feminist punk rock bandmates. In every corner of the world, people rose up and Pussy Riot led the Russian charge for change. Nadya survived imprisonment in a Russian labor camp, a hunger strike, and brutality at the hands of an authoritarian regime. “Read and Riot” is her essay to the world; one you won’t easily forget.
“Read and Riot” is broken into ten rules, or chapters, complete with actions to take, words to live by, and inspiration to keep fighting. The beginning of each chapter is marked by a series of quotes to frame each rule. Nadya’s first rule, “Be a Pirate,” dwells on “exploding existing boundaries and definitions.” The chapter explains the significance of investigating our culture, politics, and institutions. This curiosity and truth-finding is necessary to reordering your world around true justice.
The second chapter “Do It Yourself,” delves into the nuts and bolts of change-making. Nadya encourages her readers to dive headfirst into the deep end. She is a staunch believer in what she calls the DIY ethos and reminds the audience “there is nothing in this world that’s beyond your ability to comprehend…the DIY principle tells you that not only experts can deal with problems.” Nadya uses this chapter to impress upon readers that the entry point for activism begins with us; we don't need to possess extraordinary skills; we just need to be fed up and ready to act.
Nadya also highlights the significance of art in resistance and explains that capitalist or “market art” saps artists’ power. She explains, “it breaks my heart when young artists who are not really involved in the market are working hard to overproduce…they have to think about where they can suck up more money by producing more art instead of thinking about the art itself- the shadows, the sounds, the colors.” Nadya spurs us on to make the art that’s going to challenge the world, not placate to the powers that be.
The third chapter invites the readers to steal back the joy from their oppressors. Nadya explains, “smile as an act of resistance. Smile and say fuck you at the same time. Laugh in the face of your wardens. Seduce your hangman into your beliefs. Make prison wardens your friends…when the army refuses to shoot into the crowd of protestors, the revolution wins.” Nadya couples this chapter with her own experiences of trauma at the hands of her government, sharing how she survived her horrors. She impresses upon us that our surest way to defeat our oppressors is by finding joy and focusing on our small or large acts of resistance. Nadya continues, “any given system of power is built on an assumption that to receive joy you need to pay or obey. The ultimate act of subversion is thus finding joy in a refusal to pay and obey, in an act of living by radically different values.”
“Read and Riot” overflows with personal anecdotes from one of the world’s most fascinating activists, from time in prison to guerrilla street art, Nadya is triumphant, forthcoming, and resilient. In an age that demands global citizens rise to meet the challenges of climate change, the military industrial complex, and disaster capitalism just to name a few, Nadya’s handbook is a bible. In a dark world, Nadya invites us to dream and resist. It’s our responsibility to heed her call.