Occupy’s New Offshoot Set to Cancel Millions in Medical Debts

Medical debt is the cause of 62 percent of bankruptcies, say organizers of Strike Debt, which threw last night’s offbeat fundraiser for their new “Rolling Jubilee.” Ordinary people donated enough money to collectively buy an estimated $5.9 million in bad debt in order to cancel it.

Revelers at the Rolling Jubilee telethon throw glitter after hearing that the group had raised enough money to buy $5 million in medical debt.  Photo by Stacy Lanyon

On the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street’s eviction from Zuccotti Park, celebrity and local performers donated their time for a “post-modern variety show” last night at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge nightclub. They were there to raise money for what may be the most far-reaching project to grow out of the Occupy movement so far: a “bailout for the 99 percent” called Rolling Jubilee. Launched by Strike Debt, an offshoot of OWS, the Jubilee has begun erasing people’s medical debt by infiltrating the debt-collection industry.

Their tactic is to buy private debt the same way collection companies do—on the debt market, at tiny fractions of its original worth—and then cancel it in hopes of freeing debtors from their piled-up, defaulted medical bills. Organizers also want the action to bring debt servitude to the forefront of our national conversation.
Last night’s live-streamed spectacle, billed as the People’s Bailout Telethon, featured comedienne Janeane Garofalo, musicians Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, and a three-hour-long vaudevillian line-up of mariachi and magic, gospel and hip-hop, striptease and performance art. Comedy writer Lizz Winstead and cartoonist David Rees emceed the event, badgering a fluctuating online audience to donate money. With local Strike Debt chapters holding viewing parties across the country, there may have been close to 2,000 online viewers.

The event had been planned as a launch party for Rolling Jubilee, which opened its bank account on Friday, November 9. But as donations surged past the $250,000 mark—five times Strike Debt’s stated goal for the evening—the soirée took on the bubbly energy of a victory rally.

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What is zooethnography?

Foam-rubber animals filled Ortekay Square in Istanbul, Turkey last year, in a public art project inspired by the feral dogs & cats, gulls, & dolphins who share the city.

Last night I felt I had begun to understand the nascent, boundary-straining field of zooethnography.   Having traveled to Sweden’s old university town of Uppsala for a conference on it four days earlier, I met separately with organizer Jacob Bull and presenting scholar Eva Hayward, to help answer some lingering questions.

Both of them are members of the “HumAnimal” group at Uppsala University’s Center for Gender Research–a group which over the past year has embraced the term and field of zooethnography, and begun to define its challenges.

Zooethnography, Hayward explained, is the study of how animals shape human-animal encounters.  Like traditional ethnographers, who study human cultures, zooethnographers study these encounters in light of the cultural environments in which they occur–like a particular research lab, city park, or farm.

On Monday Hayward presented one such study, Migrations of Light: Whale songs and Photographs, in which she proposed an understanding of how humpback whales affected a group of human researchers in Maine, through photographs of the whale’s flukes.

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“The Elephant in the Living Room” opens Friday for 1 week

Tim Harrison is a police officer in Oakwood, Ohio, who captures escaped wild pets across Ohio and runs the advocacy group Outreach for Animals.  Terry Brumfield of Piketon hand-raised two lions in his home, one of whom made headlines in 2007 after escaping and chasing cars down US-23.

Both men have devoted their adult lives to non-humans, yet they fall on opposite sides of a controversy over how we should relate to wild animals.  They are subjects of a new documentary by filmmaker Mike Webber, who spent a year exploring the wild subculture of Americans who keep wild exotic animals as pets.

Terry Brumfield of Piketon, OH, who was in a fatal train accident this September, with one of the lions he raised from infancy. Photo courtesy of Michael Webber.

Twenty-one states including Ohio have no prohibitions on keeping wild animals in private homes.  But the rest have at least partial bans, and there are people everywhere who strongly believe that wild animals should be left in the wild.  As a result, the nation-wide community of people who buy, sell, and own wild exotic animals does not welcome outside scrutiny.

I asked Webber a few questions about his experience of making The Elephant in the Living Room, which opens at The Rave in Westchester this Friday. Continue reading

Heard on Thursday: jazzmen at The Redmoor

Hot damn. Tonight I heard a group of musicians billed as The Eddie Bayard Quintet, fill Mt. Lookout’s capacious Art Deco music hall, The Redmoor, with virtuosic and heartful improvisations. Without added showmanship or jazzy theatrics, their notes sang, sultered, and pressed upon me in the way notes do, when musicians say what they have to say with clarity.

Onstage were tenor saxophonist Edwin Bayard, drummer Melvin Broach, trumpeter Mike Wade, guitarist Wilbert Longmire, and standing bassist Eddie Brookshire. Enjoy the sketches, and keep your ears peeled for their next show.

Mike Wade on trumpet at The Redmoor, 3.26.09

Mike Wade on trumpet at The Redmoor, 3.26.09

Eddie Brookshire on bass at The Redmoor, 3.26.09

Eddie Brookshire on bass at The Redmoor, 3.26.09

Seen on Sunday: Ganesh


I joined some Hindu friends on Sunday for a trip to the Hindu Temple of Greater Cincinnati, at the end of a rural road in Union Township. They began their worship service seated cross-legged atop ornate rugs beneath plain, soaring ceilings, chanting call-and-response songs before a row of 10 or 15 painted, bejeweled, Paul Bunyan-sized god sculptures.

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Gamboling animals and fine design, with a cup of tea

The magic of Charley Harper’s wildlife paintings crouches between his precise descriptions of animals’ bodies, gestures, and personalities, and the baby’s-first-blocks simplicity of his style. If either geometry or animal-watching quickens your pulse, you might brave a touch of Stendhal Syndrome to visit a collection of Harper’s prints on display in O’Bryonville.

"Red and Fed" by Charley Harper

"Red and Fed" by Charley Harper

Pat Wynne opened The Coffee Shop on Madison in 2007, and decorated its walls with the 40+ prints he has collected by the Cincinnati-based painter, illustrator, and poster artist, since the early 80’s. To a Harper fan this permanent (though rotating) exhibit may be the best thing to happen since the Contemporary Art Center’s Harper retrospective closed in 2007, months after the artist died at age 84.

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