Howto Guide

How to Organize a Massive Pillow Fight
by Kevin Bracken & Lori Kufner, Newmindspace

1. Introduction
2. Before You Get Started
3. Never Ask Permission
4. Where to Hold Your Pillow Fight
5. Times of Day to Hold Your Pillow Fight
6. Getting the Word Out
7. Example Rules
8. Before and During the Pillow Fight
9. To Disperse or Stay
10. Cleaning Up
11. Conclusion
Appendix E – Getting electricity anywhere

Introduction
If you are reading this, you have probably transcended the “why” stage and are now squarely concerned with the “how”. Any city worth living in has at least an annual pillow fight. Organizing a massive pillow fight is perhaps the simplest of free events or interventions, but also one of the most rewarding. The following guide details our experiences with organizing pillow fights in two countries, and outlines the main choices you will have to make when planning your own.

Before You Get Started 
There may already be a pillow fight happening in your city! Many people e-mail us asking what they need to do to get a pillow fight going in their town, without realizing one is already in the planning stages. We are happy to connect these people, but the best thing you can do is ask yourself, “Is there a group in my city who already does pillow fights? I should see what their plans are for this year,” before you set out to organize one yourself. Collaboration is key!

Never Ask Permission
Our advice to anybody who has ever wondered is to never ask permission. This may change in the distant future if we witness some kind of crackdown against free events and interventions, but in the meantime, it is very unlikely that anybody will say yes. We must also remind you: the “permit culture” we citizens witness in city halls around the world is perhaps the single largest barrier to experiencing the full richness of public life in the cities we live in. Do not ask for permission, public assembly is a human right.

We got a call from the New York City Parks Department a week before a pillow fight in Union Square, asking what the hell was going on. They told us we’d need a permit. We said, “that’s nice!”

In all our time doing this and communicating with many similar groups around the world, we have never heard of police arresting or ticketing anybody in relation to a public pillow fight.

Where to Hold Your Pillow Fight 
Perhaps the most important question to answer about your pillow fight is where it will be. Do not use parks, please. This advice goes for almost all free events and interventions you might dream of, from water fights to Capture the Flag. This is not only to protect the park from huge amounts of litter, but also to protect you from the throes of banality and boringness. Most events in parks are boring.

This also goes for universities. Even if your college or university is the only thing around, please try to engage the public as well. Perhaps one of the worst things about insular college students is the fact that their lives never involve leaving campus. Broaden your horizons and use the city, not the campus.

In small or medium-sized European cities, the location for a pillow fight is usually fairly obvious: the largest, most central public square is the natural place. In North America, we are not so blessed. It is essential that you choose a location in the downtown core of the nearest large city, preferably a public square located near one or more subway/transit stops. Attempts at pillow fights in the “sorta-downtown” of small towns or suburbs have usually failed. Besides, most people with any imagination will eventually move to a city.

By the way, public squares with steps make excellent pillow fight locations.

When to Hold Your Pillow Fight 
There are two preferred staging times for pillow fights: the “Friday night pillow fight” and the “Saturday afternoon pillow fight”. We have always opted for the latter type because it is generally warmer, guarantees a greater diversity of ages (parents and children tend to be somewhat absent from nighttime events) and, if one is so inclined, sunlight makes it easier to take beautiful photographs that will become your memories of the ephemeral event.

The Saturday afternoon pillow fight, however, will necessarily lose those hungover souls whose Friday nights ran quite late, or perhaps never ended at all. The largest nighttime pillow fights, those that have taken place in San Francisco, usually begin around 6:00 PM. The largest Saturday afternoon pillow fight, a Newmindspace event in New York, started at 3:00 PM.

Don’t bother with Sunday. The only thing worse than a hangover is getting hit in the head repeatedly when you have one!

Getting the Word Out
We must begin with a simple request: please do not call your pillow fight a “flash mob”. Massive pillow fights predate flash mobs by at least a decade, and calling it a “flash mob” cheapens your event: it brings to mind images of anonymous, mindless zombies, assembling in public briefly to bewilder passersby and disperse, having never milked the sweetest benefits of a free public gathering. Pillow fights are not flash mobs.

The four most useful tools for promoting a pillow fight are, in order of declining usefulness, a mailing list, a website, social networking sites and blogs. A true mailing list, such as Dada Mail (software) or YMLP (service), is in our experience the best way to reach people; Google or Yahoo! Groups are less than ideal because people can turn the e-mail function off. A true e-mail list grows organically (via a signup link on your website) and people do not often “get sick of e-mail” like they do of Myspace. Before we organize an event in a new city, we create a mailing list and post the link to the list in a number of different places specific to that city.

Paper flyers are costly, wasteful, and they might fall into the wrong hands, but that personal connection you get from handing a pillow fight flyer to a person may be the thing that persuades them to attend.

Example Rules for a Pillow Fight 
Even when one is liberated by a free event, it is still important that certain bad behavior like violence be minimized. We generally send out these rules in our communiqués:

“+ Soft pillows only!
+ Swing lightly, many people will be swinging at once.
+ Do not swing at people without pillows or with cameras.
+ Remove glasses beforehand!
+ The event is free and appropriate for all ages.
+ Wait until the signal to begin.
+ Feather-free pillows only!”

For the signal, we have used standard athletic whistles, air horns and marine rescue whistles. It is also possible that you have chosen a public square that is blessed with a loud, hourly bell or chime, which makes a good substitute.

Before and During the Pillow Fight
People begin to assemble in the square. There is a feeling of euphoria running through most of the crowd, and you are probably a little nervous. If you feel that not everybody is there yet, do not blow the whistle. It is best to wait for people to arrive by subway, light rail or bus than to start on time.

The signal sounds!

Once people start swinging, most of your job is done :) This is the part where you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor, start whacking people with your own pillow, and at times, laugh uncontrollably. Ideally, the community will police itself if people become aggressive, and there will not be much to worry about. Again, we have never heard of police arresting or ticketing anybody in relation to a public pillow fight.

Somewhere around the 20-minute point, people may gain their “second wind” and begin forming ad-hoc alliances, charging the middle in forms reminiscent of historical fiction films like Braveheart or 300.

To Disperse or Stay
As we mentioned earlier, there is really no reason to disperse when things are just getting good, so we recommend against it. As the pillow fight goes on (it could last for two hours or more), you will notice interesting social phenomena that are particular to free events and interventions. Additionally, people will make new friends, re-unite with old ones, meet future lovers, and revel in the blissful one-ness of a free, fun, social gathering.

Some groups have made the mistake of making their pillow fight last 15 minutes, or even worse, 5. It is best to estimate that the pillow fight will last an hour if you are pressed to select an end time.

Just wait until the pillow fight’s natural end, when even the most stalwart soldiers grow weary.

Cleaning Up
The ideal pillow fight would leave no trace of its occurrence. This is not possible, however it is an ideal for which we should all strive. Bring rubber or vinyl gloves, trash bags and brooms, at the very least, and ask members of your community to do the same. If you expect a particularly large amount of mess, consider using a portable power pack (more info in Appendix E) and an industrial vacuum on wheels.

Conclusion
Once you have had a pillow fight, you may wonder what to do next. We try to limit the number of pillow fights in a given city to once a year. There are many other kinds of fun to be had, from parties on subway cars to giant games of Capture the Flag.

You may give your group a name. It is best to think of something that will allow you to do other events. “Pillow Fight Brazil” is too limiting, and “Cleveland Flashmobs” uses the obsolete word “flashmob.” Something like, “Prague’s Urban Playground” or “Urban Playground Austin” works just fine :)

This guide is a building block of our goal to spread free event culture to every corner of the world. Imagine that in any large city, anywhere on the face of the Earth, there may some day be free, fun, massive public events like pillow fights, creative interventions, games and interactive art installations on every day of the year. Imagine that no matter where you went, you could find these events and the fun-loving clan that clings to them. Imagine that in the future, we will be united by our drive to live free, fun public lives! That is the era we dream of.

Appendix E – Or, How to Bring Electricity Anywhere
Ah, energy. From time to time, you may need power in places where there are no outlets, such as the middle of public squares or on subway cars. There are several solutions for this:

This is not an advertisement, but we have found no similar product: The company Motomaster sells a device called the Eliminator Powerbox, which is essentially a rechargeable battery with a built-in inverter and several household outlets on the front. It is generally billed as a car accessory, so you will likely find them at larger big-box auto retail stores like Canadian Tire, or on eBay. You should get the 600W or the 1200W variety if you can afford it.

We have not been able to find these devices in the United States, so one time in San Francisco we were forced to create our own. To do this, we visited a local boating supply store and picked up a deep cycle gel marine battery. Next, we visited Radio Shack and asked them for both a 12V DC power inverter and a 120V car adapter. Once you connect these three devices together, you should have a battery with a dongle hanging off the end that has a household outlet on it. Presto!

Indeed, if one is to own anything, a bubble toy is a wonderful choice.

1 Comment

  1. People attending the Washington DC pillow fight will probably come by subway and not want to carry those pillows back home or to the bars when they’re done. Seems a shame to throw away all those pillows; any chance you could collect them and donate to an animal shelter? Dogs in crates would love something soft to lay on!

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