New take on nonviolence: pillow fight for peace

10/15/12 Janelle Irwin
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With uprisings in overseas countries and U.S. occupations of places like Afghanistan, peace activists called attention to the problems yesterday in downtown St. Pete by hitting each other with pillows.

“Everybody is out here just hitting each other, but laughing at the same time. So, it’s kind of like a play on words.”

Elizabeth Dunn planned the event because, as she put it, it was on her bucket list. The idea was to promote peace through togetherness.

“You end up fighting with your neighbors just because of cultural differences or religion or something like that. Well, I wanted to do an event where the whole community comes together – it doesn’t matter what color you are, what religion, anything – just everybody come together and have fun.”

People walking by stopped and starred. Some asked what the heck was going on. There were no signs, no picket lines or marches, just people with pillows having fun. It didn’t look or feel like much of a demonstration, but one participant, Ryan Mitchell said that was the point.

“Oddly, I think a lot of things that seem very immature or – ‘a pillow fight? Why would you want to go do that?’ I think it just says that we’re just human beings and we can come together for an event and just laugh and have a good time and that’s very human and that kind of takes us above some of the things that maybe detract us from wanting to hang out with each other.”

There were people ranging in age from elementary-aged kids to retired seniors. Tom Mawn was one of the older pillow fighters. He wore a large brimmed hat to block the sun, a plaid button down shirt and dress slacks. Mawn said, aside from pillow fights, there are things that can be done to ease violence occurring in other countries.

“It seems like a lot of the conflicts that are occurring right now seem to be ostensibly based on religion, but I believe, based on anything that I learned in school, was that you get religious conflict when there is economic problems to begin with. I think some idea of there being economic justice in the world will bring to an end a lot of these conflicts.”

But for now, bloodshed is in full swing. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 500 and 900 civilians – 176 are estimated to be children. Mawn said most Americans don’t realize the full impact of what is happening in Middle Eastern countries.

“For a lot of people, the idea of the drone strikes is just so abstracted from their day to day experience that it’s meaningless. It’s almost developed into a video game kind of a war. There’s no cost associated at our end. Most people think of video games as you have a reset and you’re fine except the people at the other end of the game in this case never get a reset.”

The pillow fight drew about 100 people from all different religious and cultural backgrounds. Alex Farr is from New Zealand. He said war isn’t common where he lives.

“It’s nothing like America and they haven’t gotten the politics they have over here. Politics creates a lot of disputes and everything and that’s why people go to war I presume.”

The group of pillow fighters took frequent breaks from their battles. But they didn’t talk much about why they were there. Stanislav Ivanov said even though people didn’t seem to be thinking too much about war and peace, the event was still teaching them something.

“It’s important for people to get together, come face to face. You try picking on random people and you kind of get a feel for how your own aggressions play in your life and maybe that helps you understand things a little better.”

This isn’t the first time peace activists have gotten their message out with pillow fights. Events on the West Coast in places like San Fransisco and Seattle have graced news headlines with photos of feathers flying. That visual didn’t happen in downtown St. Pete though - down pillows weren’t allowed because organizers didn’t want to leave a mess.

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