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Madonna, Pussy Riot, Imagine Dragons & Flaming Lips Fight for Freedom at Amnesty International Concert

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(DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

(DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

By Shannon Carlin

Halfway through last night’s (Feb. 5) Amnesty International Benefit Concert in Brooklyn, Madonna walked out, leaning on her cane, to introduce Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina of Pussy Riot.

The recently released Russian prisoners—who were imprisoned for 21 months on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in 2012 after performing an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral—were the reason many people came out to New York’s outer borough to support Amnesty’s cause. And according to Madonna, the sole reason “pussy” is no longer a dirty word in her house. Though, it’s hard to believe any word for the female anatomy would be a no-no in the Material Girl’s home.

Madonna took the stage to talk about her time in Russia, saying it was no coincidence that she was performing in St. Petersburg in 2012 at the same time when Pussy Riot’s trial was taking place. As soon as she arrived int he country, she received death threats due to her “gay show” and promoting homosexuality on stage. “Which I have been known to do,” Madonna said in regards to the claims.

But the show must go on, and Madonna didn’t change one bit of hers to please the Russian government. She was later sued for a million dollars and says, 87 people in the crowd that night were arrested for “gay behavior.”

“Human rights are not something we should have to fight for,” Madonna told the crowd, who booed in solidarity, something they would do often during the Madge’s speech.

In the latter part of her career, Madonna has wanted to be known for more than being a material girl and feeling like a virgin, using her celebrity status to support the LGBT community all over the world and speak out in support of freedom of speech. Last year, she founded the Art For Freedom campaign, which asks people to send in videos, photos and poetry answering the question “What does freedom mean to you?”

Madonna said going to Russia opened her eyes to what was going on. “I live in a country where I can speak my mind. I can criticize the government and religious fundamentalism without fear of being thrown in jail,” she explained. “I don’t take this for granted and neither should you.”

She advised that everyone in attendance be willing to fight against injustice. That everyone stand up against those leaders—whether they’re on the other side of the world or just down the street—that don’t respect human rights by writing letters, posting to Facebook, tweeting or just shouting so loud that it can’t help but be heard by whoever’s listening. Most of all though, that we find some inspiration in Pussy Riot.

Related: Watch Pussy Riot Poke Fun at Putin on ‘Colbert’

And with that, Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and their translator, came out to roaring applause from the crowd. Officially crowning them the newest celebrities of the Amnesty movement, something the rest of their Pussy Riot cohorts were none too happy about.

In a letter signed by six other members of the guerrilla group they express their distaste over the two women appearing alongside Madonna at a concert that sells tickets, which they wrote yesterday (Feb. 5) on their website (via The Guardian) as being “highly contradictory to the principles of Pussy Riot.”

“We’re a female separatist collective,” the letter stated. “We never accept money for our performances” and “we only stage illegal performances in unexpected public places.” The letter goes on to declare that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are “no longer Pussy Riot,” writing, “We have lost two friends, two ideological teammates, but the world has gained two brave rights activists.”

Imagine Dragons at the Amnesty International concert in Brooklyn. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for CBGB)Imagine Dragons at the Amnesty International concert in Brooklyn. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for CBGB)

And they’re right. The two women—who came out wearing tunics with upside down crosses on them—looked right at home on the stage shouting at the crowd to fight for freedom. They led the crowd in a chant of “Russia will be free!” before declaring this will only happen if President Vladimir Putin is taken down.

Before exiting the stage, the women told the crowd to demand freedom, sending themselves off with the hopeful, but rather ominous final message of “We hope you’re with us.”

Throughout the night, the elder statesman of the Amnesty movement like Bob Geldof—who scolded the crowd for clapping after he said him and his band, Boomtown Rats, were going to perform three songs, “You don’t know what I do!”—talked of passing the baton to a new generation of artists.

For the first concert for the cause in 16 years, younger acts like Colbie Caillat, Cold War KidsThe Fray, Tegan and Sara and Imagine Dragons (who stole the show with their drum circle performance of “Radioactive”) talked of the importance of fighting the good fight. And hopefully, when the night was all said and done, helped gained a few new young supporters with disposable income.

Related: Imagine Dragons, The Fray Talk Importance of Amnesty International’s ‘Bring Human Rights Home’ Show 

In between performances, which included BlondieCake and Lauryn Hill, those prisoners of conscience—Ann Burroughs of South Africa, Kianoosh Sanjari of Iran and Kerry Max Cook, who spent 22 years in a Texas jail for a crime he didn’t commit—spoke to the crowd about their own experiences with the organization, who has been standing up for the rights of the individual over the past 54 years.

The night’s focus was on Russia (just look at the show’s poster, featuring a balaclava clad Pussy Rioter), but it was really about the world’s injustices, some of which are taking place in our own backyard. But most of the people sitting in the Barclays Center already knew all of this. It’s the others who Amnesty have to convince. Bob Geldof said it best when he quoted his fellow Irishman, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

The night ended with Wayne Coyne standing atop his silver Christ-like pedestal along with his Flaming Lips and Sean Lennon—who backed up his mom, Yoko Ono for one song with the band and then stood in the wings singing along to the Lips’ cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”—playing an all-star finale of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” Many have been released from their prison cells, but, let’s not kid ourselves, we still have a long way to go. 

(Theo Wargo/Getty Images for CBGB)(Theo Wargo/Getty Images for CBGB)

 

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