Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers

Can Philadelphia come together to show love for its essential workers in a nightly cheer?

At least two West Philly neighbors plan to spend a few minutes hanging outside their rowhome windows and clapping Thursday evening — and every evening after that. They’re following in the pandemic footsteps of New York, where people across the city have been cheering for essential workers every night at 7 p.m.

The nightly ritual started in NYC the last week of March. As the coronavirus spread through the densely packed city, a public relations firm started the hashtag #ClapBecauseWeCare… and it actually worked. On the first night of the experiment, cheers were heard in all five boroughs.

Before that, residents of European cities like Rome, Madrid, Paris, Athens and Amsterdam took to their balconies to celebrate local healthcare workers.

It hasn’t yet happened in Philly, but Penn grad student Tali Ziv and co-organizer Michelle Munyikwa hope the idea will catch on. For the past week, they’ve been working to spread the word, adapting the hashtag to #ClapBecauseWeCarePHL.

They’ve told friends and neighbors. They’ve sent messages to their academic listservs — disseminating the idea through Penn’s medical school and social sciences departments.

“We’re just hoping if we spread enough seeds, to the bigger players who we’re passing it onto, it’ll travel that way,” Ziv said.

It’s all in an effort to show support for the tens of thousands of Philadelphians who’ve been obligated to continue working throughout the pandemic.

As many of us sequester at home, others are still working. Health care and medical workers are a huge part of that group, but it spans many industries. Nannies and postal carriers. SEPTA operators and grocery store clerks. Food service workers and delivery drivers.

At the same time as they ask for more protections, these people are keeping the city’s essential services running.

On a March meetup hosted via Zoom, some of those essential workers asked the city for a $5 to $10 million relief fund to help low-wage earners who don’t qualify for immediate public aid. The Kenney administration denied that request.

The nightly 7 p.m. cheer is a way to make sure they know other city residents appreciate their sacrifice.

“This is to show all the essential workers in Philly that we’re thinking about them,” Ziv said. “We can’t be near them, but this is a way we can be close.”

Ziv’s ready to remove her window screen come Thursday evening. She thinks the idea will take off in West Philadelphia first — since that’s the neighborhood where she and her friends have spread the word via their fellow grad students.

She acknowledges that it might take a little while to catch on citywide — especially since Philly rowhomes are far less dense than NYC-style apartments. She said she’s prepared to go it alone for as many nights as she has to.

“It’ll be a couple silly folks sitting outside their window and clapping,” Ziv said. “It’ll probably be a lot of nights of just us doing it. But I’m hopeful.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...