When curious-looking animated silhouettes appear in the windows of foreclosed Dorchester residences — as they did this past month during a massive demonstration on Bullard Street, and will again soon in locations to be announced — it means that John Hulsey is scaring off bad guys. He’s like the Macaulay Culkin (manipulating cardboard cutouts to deter the Wet Bandits in Home Alone) of the post-global-economic-collapse set.
With his cinematic 72 Hours “intervention project,” Harvard PhD candidate Hulsey — along with organizers from City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) of Jamaica Plain and the Greater Four Corner Action Coalition — is delivering a no-nonsense message to the financial institutions that served nearly 4000 petitions to foreclose in Massachusetts during the first two months of 2010, and that activists claim have evicted more than 10,000 Bostonians since 2008.
“Right now, banks are putting people on the street who can afford to pay the mortgage on the current market value,” as opposed to the original mortgage, based on much higher past values, says Hulsey. “But banks don’t think that people who defaulted on their previous mortgages should be allowed to get new ones, and that’s not just unethical but disgusting. These institutions got bailed out by the American people — now they have a responsibility to help people out.”
Hulsey and other art-minded progressives first thought of the projection concept this past October. Teaming with CLVU — an affordable-housing initiative that has so far saved about 30 homes with help from Harvard Law School professors and the nonprofit Boston Community Capital Bank — the filmmakers invited victims of predatory lending to share their experiences in a unique way, by acting out their stories behind illuminated white curtains in “improvisational jam sessions.” The name 72 Hours refers to the tragedies that unfold when residents are given just three days’ notice to vacate their homes; in the silent silhouette films, arguments ensue, constables show up, and furniture gets repossessed.
“It’s about trying to get out that private, domestic experience that doesn’t usually get shared,” says Hulsey. “After we record them, we’re literally projecting those experiences through the windows of these houses, and throwing the issue into the public sphere, so that people can confront it.”
Hulsey’s improv sessions — held weekly at CLVU in Jamaica Plain from October to January — were in the least therapeutic. “The weekly gatherings have had a huge impact,” says CLVU Organizing Director Steve Meacham. “They’re very emotional, and a lot of people need that to realize that they’re not alone in this.” But organizers have also seen tangible results; following a 72 Hours protest exhibit this past January in Dedham, Deutsche Bank agreed to sell the home at issue for market value.
“We’re not trying to go building by building,” says Meacham. “We’re trying to let everybody — and especially banks — know that this is not okay anywhere.”
For more on the 72 Hours project, visit jhulsey.net.