Jonathan Heawood: There's more to protesting than 'retweet'

How do you solve a problem like Vladimir? Opinions about the solution to Russia's President have proliferated over the weekend. The two-year prison sentence handed down to Pussy Riot for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" has sparked an international storm of punditry. Outrage has been expressed. International musicians including Madonna, Paul McCartney and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have spoken out. Protesters have worn Day-Glo balaclavas. Everyone agrees: something must be done.

But to pin the fate of Pussy Riot on to one man, as though Putin runs Russia single-handedly, is misleading. He runs a powerful machine, certainly, but there are millions of active cogs inside the Russian regime, and there are many other passive participants who are allowing this to happen. Once the silly season is over, the world will once again stand back as the state machine continues to dismantle civil liberties.

Who's standing back, you say? We've sent literally loads of tweets about it. Some of us have even been to the Russian embassy to protest. How many of you? Oh, at least a hundred. But where was everyone else?

Back in 1948, when Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the world, she made clear that "every individual and organ of society" had a role to play in the advancement of human rights. Every major achievement in the history of human rights has been the result of mass movements of people – the collapse of Apartheid in South Africa; the fall of the Soviet Union; the end of segregation in the American South. By coming together, people can do more than any government.

Twitter and other social- networks have given people the impression that fighting for human rights is easy: all you have to do is hit "retweet", and the world will be a better place. Two things are missing from this equation: money and a movement.

The capacity for campaigners around the world to connect with each other, and with the general public, has never been greater. We are used to petitions with millions of signatures. The first billion-signature petition may only be around the corner. And yet something is missing – the genuine human connection that was critical to previous global movements. People can only take risks when they know and trust each other as people, not just avatars. And profound change does not come without considerable risk.

Pussy Riot may not be the world's greatest band, but this trio of young women are as inspirational as any Olympic athlete. Their imprisonment could be the catalyst that helps to rebuild the international human-rights movement. Perhaps this will bring about genuine change in Russia and elsewhere.

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