The Mattress Game is a focused way to discuss a big oppressive situation or structure. Everything and everyone that is in power is supported by various institutions, people, and dynamics that support that power. Gene Sharp (click here to read Gene’s bio on this website) discusses the pillars of power and the challenge to remove those pillars and the consent they provide to the oppressive situation. The Mattress Games provides a simulated way of entering those issues. Click here for Training for Change’s facilitation instructions for the Mattress Game.
First you have to identify the issue that is being analyzed. Then identify the various institutions, people or groups, and dynamics that are the pillars holding up that system or structure. Narrow the pillars down to the six main ones, sometimes clustering some topics together.
Then invite 6 volunteers to personify those pillars. One facilitator takes the “pillars” outside the room to discuss their roles and brief them about how to challenge the other participants but also be open to ideas that might work in shifting them from supporting the oppression to becoming neutral or even siding with “the people.”
Meanwhile the other participants form into 6 action groups to brainstorm ways to try to “flip” the pillars. When the “pillars” come in carrying the mattress on their upraised arms the action groups find their assigned pillar and begin telling or even acting out their ideas to convince the pillar to change. As one pillar leaves, then another, the weight of the mattress gets heavier on the remaining pillars until it tumbles to the ground.
After the exercise is over, each action group and the pillar can discuss the various ideas to determine the best and most likely to succeed. That distillation can set the stage for further strategizing and planning.