Slurping for liberation

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

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The Bail Phondraiser, taking place this Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Social Justice Center on Willy Street, brings people together over $5 bowls of pho to raise money to bail Dane County residents out of jail. The event’s two previous installments have brought in $945 for Madison’s Free The 350 Bail Fund, which bails out people of color in the Dane County Jail, in a sustained push against the practice of cash bail and the racial disparities baked into the American criminal justice system. While fighting for the long-term goal of prison abolition, these efforts are an immediate response to the harm the cash bail system causes by ripping people away from their families and communities before they’re even convicted of a crime.

“The general idea comes from understanding food as a critical part of human identity, and being one of the primary ways that the prison system strips incarcerated folks of their humanity—mostly to the end of extracting cheap labor, which is considered inhumane, so the prison system is structured around positioning prisoners as subhuman,” says Madison-based activist Tommy Valtin-Erwin, who hosted the first two Phondraisers at his apartment and will be doing much of the cooking on Saturday. “The fundraiser is structured the way it is because of research indicating that shared meals (the same meal, not just eating together) build trust and cooperation.”

Valtin-Erwin focused in on pho because it’s affordable and manageable to make in large quantities, on top of its hearty and warming qualities. Perhaps there is also something disarming about assembling and slurping your pho with a few dozen other community members. The ultimate goal is for activists to pick up on the model and throw bail-fundraiser meals all around the country in states that still have cash bail. “I want to generate a zine or brochure that lays out really simply how anyone can host a bail fundraiser meal,” Valtin-Erwin says. “Then link up with folks that do the more direct work of paying bail to build a document that outlines how to actually pay someone’s bail or organize a bail fund if your location doesn’t have one.”

Other goals are to have these events branch out beyond pho, involve more participation from restaurants and youth groups, and to do a better job of connecting with local Viet communities when pho is still being served. “I want to move away from just cooking pho ‘out of convenience,’ mostly because I don’t want to be inadvertently causing harm to Viet communities by appropriating a cultural object in a way that is harmful,” Valtin-Erwin says.

The imagery around the Phondraiser is explicitly and joyously anti-cop. A poster for this Saturday’s event, designed by Madison-based music journalist Amileah Sutliff, depicts a police cruiser drowning in delicious broth.

See the Facebook event linked above, or the Free The 350 Bail Fund Twitter account, for more information on the Phondraiser. Folks hoping to attend and eat (or just donate to the cause) can contribute via Venmo, CashApp, or PayPal, or use cash or a card at the event.



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This week’s Madison calendar: The Hate U Give at Hawthorne Library. Null Device at Crucible. And more.

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December 12: Tone Madison Best of 2019 Listening Party. Giant Jones Brewing Company, 6 to 9 p.m., free, 21+

March 5: Kayo Dot, Psalm Zero, Telechrome. Communication, 8 p.m. Tickets available now, discount for Tone Madison Sustainers

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