Service of Crowds

June 4th, 2020

Categories: Crowds, Health, Protest

New Yorkers were used to crowds. Before the pandemic hundreds of us would routinely enter a concert, game or theater at once, while others would similarly board rush hour subways, commuter trains and buses daily.

I don’t like crowds so if possible I’ve been strategic to avoid them. When I depended on a subway to get to the office I’d leave early or late and always missed rush hour at day’s end by working until well after 6:00 pm. Even if at a protest, I’d go alone and plant myself at the crowd’s edge so I could leave promptly.

In addition to a feeling of loss of control created by walking among a mass of people, these days there’s the potential danger of exposure to virus-infected droplets if marchers, ignoring social distancing, wear masks or not. That’s why I was alarmed when I couldn’t cross 50th Street and Second Avenue on my way home on Tuesday afternoon. Vehicular traffic and bicycles were stopped at the street as if at the starting line of a race, backed up for blocks making a giant parking lot.

We–me at a distance from them and other pedestrians standing appropriately apart–watched an enthusiastic throng of mostly youngsters protesting against police brutality and racism who only by the virus and their proximity to one another posed any danger. There was nothing to do but wait or come face to face with marchers by struggling past a tight line of them to reach the other side of the street. Finally there was a slight break and we raced through it to continue downtown on fairly empty streets.

I empathize with the marcher’s goal of solidarity but NYC isn’t theirs alone. It’s mine too. I didn’t like feeling trapped. This morning on WOR 710 radio Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., Professor of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, warned in an interview that the marchers must take care not to block ambulances from reaching the hospital which he said has happened.

The Democratic National Committee, which moved its convention from July to end August, is exploring some kind of virtual convention. In “If Democrats Hold a Big Convention, Will Anybody Come?” in The New York Times Reid J. Epstein wrote: “Interviews with 59 members of the Democratic National Committee and superdelegates who will formally nominate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in August found that the vast majority of them don’t want to risk their own health or the health of others by traveling to Milwaukee and congregating inside the convention facilities.”

With the uncertainty around the spread of Covid-19–we’re now hearing that the heat of summer may have no impact on lessening it as hoped–I wondered if anyone has asked the some 50,000 Republicans, of which 2,550 are delegates, that the president expects to attend the August convention if they still plan to stand shoulder-to-shoulder for hours under one roof?

Do you hope as I do that there will not be an uptick in Covid-19 cases as a result of the marches in spite of dire predictions by many in the medical community? That would be a big relief to both parties and all Americans.

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6 Responses to “Service of Crowds”

  1. HG Said:

    I am anti crowd.
    So much can be done online.
    It’s a different world.
    Better to go to an alternate, and live to talk about it!!!!!
    Some people find it hard to readjust.
    They, we, must relearn.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    For now I agree 1,000 percent. I trust that once we’ve controlled this pandemic the world will be smart enough to thwart anything like it for a long time.

    Meanwhile many practices will change. I will miss shaking hands but think that will be gone. Hugging friends as greeting or goodbye too.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    The gatherings currently taking place are not crowds, they’re mobs, and should be referred to as such. While most participants are well meaning, and carry a strong and positive message in favor of respecting fellow humans, larcenous thugs are sure to tag along, thus converting meaningful events into looting and often murderous nightmares.

    The ultimate authority of this phenomenon is Emile Zola, whose timeless explanation suggests that the reader stay home. It’s a frightening piece, but well worth the time, whether taking it on in French, or any other language in which it’s been translated.

    As to the virus, let’s hope recent activity has caused it to lose steam, and that it politely continues to sink into oblivion.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I was in Santiago, Chile when we saw a mob running down the street in our direction. A store owner beckoned to us to come in quickly. We did, he threw down a metal gate, the mob ran past and we went on our way.

    The young people marching east on 50th Street on Tuesday were not scary like this. Employees from the few open nearby businesses–a Starbucks for example–watched the throng; none were alarmed. The march kept to the street, nowhere near store windows. The most they had in their hands were posters on cardboard–nothing with which to bash a window. As I wrote above, once I watched the marchers for a while I was only afraid of them as potential carriers of disease which is why I waited to be able to cross the street while remaining as far from them as possible.

    There was a police car parked nearby yet no police to hold up the marchers so cars, bikes and pedestrians could move across safely as they do during other protests I’ve attended.

    Looters are what Governor Cuomo called “opportunists.” They took advantage of the march and ruined it for those who meant only to share a positive, collaborative, heartfelt message.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    I have never been overly fond of crowds although I have gone to political rallies and even demonstrations, the latest being the first Women’s March against Trump.

    However, I find myself almost constantly staying at home observing quarantine, afraid of the current protests first and foremost because of the tremendous health risks since we are still clearly in the throes of a mysterious pandemic.

    Then there is always the problem of the crowd as a separate entity from the individuals who compose it and it’s inherent ability to change without notice from peaceful to raging. This general unpredictability coupled with unpredictable police response in prior years has been magnified to the nth degree in the new Trump/Barr neo-fascist era. It seems that all norms including mythological ones of a democratic America have been summarily dispensed with. There seems to be no longer any need for pretense. Rather the so-called powers that be fully espouse a military regime part banana republic, part a Fourth Reich. Crowd events seem totally terrifying to me in light of the dangers permeating our everyday lives, but it seems hard to imagine how we can restore any new balance.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are countless shady characters who gain from increasing the split between those looking for social justice and those who don’t. Some of these people are also divided by political party. Sprinkled in with the earnest protesters are professional troublemakers who in short order could cause a ruckus. Their goal is to discredit the protest. Those around them become ham in sandwich subject to danger. And that’s for starters.

    A well-meaning hothead could antagonize the police causing tear gas and rubber bullets to shatter the crowd.

    Add the dastardly virus and the protests could become especially lethal.

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