Go Outside and Howl at 8pm went live on March 27 with a simple message on Facebook:
What better time to howl than this time of isolation?
Every night at 8pm in your time zone, take a minute to step outside and let out a cathartic howl! We'll post up daily themes that may or may not be very, very, very important....Let's see how many people the world over we can get to howl in one night!
It was a simple concept, born of a simple idea: People needed a way to release their emotions. As they became accustomed to Colorado's stay-at-home order and social distancing in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, Shelsea Ochoa and Brice Maiurro knew that, at the very least, they could use a way to let loose. And so the howl was born.
Of course, it didn't stay simple. Since Westword published the first story on the effort — three days after that Facebook page went live, when it already had 64,200 members — the concept has gone around the world. On April 15, membership was over 530,000, and the founders had talked to the BBC before I caught up with them late in the day.
Last week, Mayor Michael Hancock told people to howl on behalf of first responders and health-care workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic. "Put some lights on a tree, or your mailbox, or decorate a window, and ?illuminate? your decorations nightly at 8:00 pm while you HOWL," the city urges. Governor Jared Polis has encouraged Coloradans to howl, too. By now, people in more than a hundred countries have howled.
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And it all started in Congress Park, where Maiurro and Ochoa, community activists who'd been working at National Jewish Health and the Museum of Nature & Science, respectively, were now staying at home. They picked 8 p.m. for a community howl because it would be at night, but not so late that it would disturb people, Maiurro explains. They decided to keep the time at 8 p.m. no matter the time zone, because it would keep things uncomplicated. And then they shared the idea with their friends.
The early howling reports came from Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park. Then Lakewood and Parker. "People were howling by themselves for many days," Ochoa says, "and then they heard someone else." Sometimes they even heard actual coyotes.
Ochoa's best friend is in San Diego, and heard howling there. "That's the closest I can be to my friend," she says. In Geneva, Switzerland, residents of apartment buildings on both sides of a street howled at each other.
"One thing I really appreciate about the page, people have had a place to express what they're going through," Ochoa says. "It's really beautiful to see the community come together and hold space for each other."
But as the Howl at 8pm movement grew, maintaining the Facebook page was suddenly no longer simple, either. At one point, in response to "inappropriate shenanigans" and worse, Ochoa and Maiuuro added language warning that problematic content would be removed. They also limited hours for commenting, and trained 25 volunteer administrators to help them with the page.
Go Outside and Howl at 8pm had grown bigger than the both of them.
"For a lot of people, it's become an important ritual at a time in their lives when they have no control," Ochoa says. "I'm happy to know that it's bigger than us. It belongs to everyone."
That was the idea, all along, to "let it grow a life of its own," she explains. "The original intention was to let it be what people wanted it to be, needed it to be."
And will there come a time when people no longer need it?
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"We kind of feel the same way about ending as starting," Maiurro explains. "We never thought it would get this big...it's kind of out of our hands. People will choose their own path."
But first, they have one more particular path in mind: Howloween.
On April 22, the night of the new moon, they're encouraging everyone to go out and howl, again, just as Ochoa and Maiurro have been doing every night...but this time in costume. They've been so busy, they haven't had a chance to decide what they'll wear. Ochoa has a red tutu that might make an appearance, and also a raccoon hat she's thinking about.
But they already know one thing: It will be a good night to howl.