Who is that Masked Woman – and Why?

Ideas and Issues Organizing
masks on a beach in China

New Orleans    Rifling through the papers on my return, I am confronted by a picture of women on the beach in ski masks.  What’s up with that?  Flip a couple of pages and there are even more of them, as if it is a blooming fad of some kind.  Reading further it was some of the same phenomena we had found on our Organizers’ Forum trips to Vietnam and Thailand, a desire to not “appear like peasants” in the clash of fashion, culture, and race.

A little farther back a man is being arrested in Russia supporting the women’s band and its protest of the autocratic methods of Prime Minister Putin.  Another day’s paper spotlighted the members of the Russian punk rock band, the so-called Pussy Riot, all wearing ski masks as they did their “prayer protest” in the cathedral against Putin’s methods.    All of this was reminiscent of the emergence some years ago of Subcomandante Marcos and his Zapatista Army of National Liberation who became popular heroes from the Mexican state of Chiapas and an articulate force for reform and protest against globalization and advocates for the poor.

man protesting the arrests of members of Pussy Riot


Could balaclavas be catching on as a political statement and tactic, and not some weird anti-fashion race statement?

In fact the Riot-ers seem to have adopted the ski mask for the same reason as Marcos and the Zapatistas had done – to not be identified.  It seems that the Riot-ers were a band of about a dozen who upon donning their masks became interchangeable.  The three young women now in the dock for up to 7 years could have been any combination of others who might have taken their places.  Except for the brutal honesty of the situation, what an amazing story that would make in the hands of a skilled novelist!

members of Pussy Riot

In a world of solidarity with perhaps cooler temperatures, perhaps we would all be donning balaclavas now.  Whenever protests are masked in anonymity for fear of reaction and retaliation, we have to recognize that these tactics say something fundamentally about a society and its political norms, all of which are worth hearing, and none of which augur well for people forced to hide their faces and silence their voices.

on the beach in China, people wearing masks for sun protection