Embracing a sense of community

Molina was responsible for bringing OIH to Amherst, under the guidance of Professor of Fine Arts DeWitt Godfrey, who teaches Molina’s first-year seminar, Social Sculpture. The class has been planning to design and construct a memorial for the Sept. 11 tragedy on and around the two solitary pedestals in front of Mead. “During the process of thinking about the memorial, I brought up OIH, which had been a concept that I had been fooling around with since the proposition of an ‘operation infinite justice,'” said Molina. Godfrey liked the idea and agreed to help implement it.

On Thursday, the one-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the class was not yet ready to begin constructing the memorial; however, they saw the opening of Mead’s alumni art exhibit as a chance to institute OIH in front of a large group of people. Godfrey set up the operation, and the proponents of OIH gained permission to put their plans into action. “Without Professor Godfrey’s encouragement, support, and opportunity, OIH’s first formal action wouldn’t have been as successful as it was,” said Molina.

Among those students involved with the event are Molina’s other Social Sculpture classmates, including freshmen Gabrielle Ferrere, Halima Duncan, Megan McDonald-Walsh, Tarja Martikainen, Chelsea Leven, Daniel Reiss, Deleon Wright and Bill Unsworth. These students aided Molina by wearing OIH t-shirts and distributing brochures and hugs.

“There weren’t that many students, but those that did walk by were receptive to our hugs,” said Ferrere. “We didn’t get any rejections.”

Molina points to one other person who has been instrumental to the smooth execution of OIH, his girlfriend Ellena Chmeilewski, who attends the University of Chicago. For about a month before its inception, Molina and Chmeilewski were in correspondence about the project, at first in a preliminary discussion stage, and eventually in more productive collaboration. “Ellena has been my main voice of creative support and constructive criticism,” said Molina. “I’m glad we were so prepared for larger actions. I don’t think I would have been able to do OIH to the degree which it has found itself without her help.”

Much of the information about Operation Infinite Hug has been disseminated through both the brochures OIH participants handed out last Thursday and the project’s website, www.envy.nu/infinitehug, which was designed and created by Chmeilewski. “[The website] is, in my mind, the means of stable, feasible and centralized communication, and the hub of potential outreach,” said Molina.

Both the website and the brochure include literature (which Molina wrote) describing the project in clever and active terms. Appearing on both documents is the statement, “The objective of this endeavor is to supply the entire world with a hug by hugging people and encouraging people to hug others. It will be a large collective hug, a whole of many parts compromised of individual hugging acts.” The self-proclaimed “manifesto” encourages people not only to hug various entities, from a tree to a politician to the sun, but also to become involved in “personal modes of action, both feasible and not.”

The website also includes a Guest Map, where people can post messages concerning OIH; a point on a map of the world appears for each post, indicating the author’s location. On the page, there are also links to other related sites, including the Red Cross, United Way and FEMA homepages.

Although OIH was created in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the potential for United States retaliation, it is not a protest- or war-related project. Instead, it is intended to be a method for people to express their emotions as they desire. “This isn’t a war protest. It can be. But though inspired by certain war actions, its therapeutic relevance transcends the immediate cause. Use it as a war protest. Use it as an act of love. Use it as a vacation. And so on�” decrees the manifesto.

In terms of turnout and distribution of brochures (and hugs), last week’s event was very successful. “The feedback on Thursday was absolutely wonderful,” said Molina. “It was especially amazing to see older people (that is, people not in college) being so enthusiastic about getting and giving hugs.”

Not all of the responses have been positive, however. “I have weathered some criticism, most of which had been well thought out and well spoken, though perhaps disagreeable in terms,” said Molina.

For Operation Infinite Hug, last Thursday was only the beginning. Molina hopes that the act of hugging will not end with him but continue into the future.