Coming this Saturday to a city near you: The Bliss Mob Hug Parade, spreading good vibes, neighborly love and friendly feelings throughout downtown Asheville.
Organized by The Booth Fairy Project, a local organization that aims to spread positivity, the hug parade will march through Asheville, starting at the Vance Monument at 2 p.m. April 8, accumulating huggers along the way and stopping to give hugs, high-fives and happiness to those in the parade's path.
The Bliss Mob is just one way that the Booth Fairy Project aims to spread positivity through this community and other communities around the country, also organizing events like Clash for Trash (picking up trash in clashing fashion) and the Slow Clap platform, making individuals feel like rock stars for a moment of crowd-clapping fame. The project is based in Asheville, but has toured to other cities in the region since its conception — hosting events in Asheville, Charlotte and Knoxville and planning others for Savannah, Greenville and beyond.
Why hug strangers?
"Why not?" asked Booth Fairy Project founder Elle Erickson. "Personally, I've been doing things sort of like this for a while. I went to Burning Man a handful of years back and (worked at) an advice booth, and having these experiences where I'm just doing good things for people — I guess I just experienced how good it made me feel to do good things. I just want to spread that so other people can feel that feeling too. People need that right now more than ever, and the overwhelming response I got since starting this made me realize that I should be doing this all the time."
On May 1, The Booth Fairy Project is actually launching a crowdfunding campaign to take the Bliss Mob hug parade on the road, allowing Erickson to buy a bus or van and take herself (and other enthusiastic individuals) on a nationwide positivity tour.
"My intention is to leave the town with almost like a kit to keep it going — appoint a hug ambassador, kind of," she said. "There's no reason we shouldn't be doing these every couple of weeks in each city, and they're so ridiculously fun."
Hugging strangers not your thing? No worries. There's no need to steer clear of downtown during the Bliss Mob. Erickson explained that all hugs given at the parades are consensual — and parade participants can even offer high-fives as an alternative to hugs.
In a March video of a Bliss Mob in downtown Charlotte, parade participants can be heard excitedly exclaiming, "Does anyone want a hug?" and waiting for a response before engaging in the friendly act, leaving passersby alone if they choose to decline.
The Bliss Mob, which Erickson describes as a cross between a flash mob and a hug parade, will be "a super fun hour of random acts of awesomeness," she wrote on the event page. "All supplies are provided. Just show up and be ready to hug it out."
Not only is the group offering free hugs, but the positive people of the parade will be handing out compliments and smiles as well. For future events, Erickson is planning even more fun for Asheville and beyond — currently developing a feel-good scavenger hunt for downtown.
"It’s going to be doing things that better yourself and better the world and having fun at the same time," she explained. One of the missions, for example, would be to hug a tree. Another would be to pick up five pieces of trash — or compliment six strangers.
"Doing things to connect people with other people," Erickson said. "People are so closed off, and these types of experiences and exercises help connect people and break down those walls."
Saturday's Bliss Mob will only last about an hour, but "it's a beautiful way to spread joy and laughter — and you'll feel amazing," Erickson said. "The first one I did started with three or four people, and we ended up recruiting people on the street, picking up five tourists to do it with us."
Those interested in parading should arrive at the Vance Monument a bit before 2 p.m. on Saturday to get ready to follow the group on the march. Signs aren't necessary to participate — and Erickson makes some extras for newcomers — but any type of signage is welcome to help get the message across.
"This isn't a protest," Erickson said. "This isn't anti- anything. It's all about love. We're just keeping it very simple. Pro-love and nothing else. Just show up ready to hug, compliment or high-five."
Sometimes, the world just needs a little sunshine.