Across the state, Texans are sending a message to Gov. Greg Abbott: end the economy-crushing coronavirus closures and open Texas now.

Hundreds rallied in Frisco on Saturday, calling on the governor to lift restrictions on businesses deemed “non-essential” by the government and let Texans get safely back to work.

“We want Texas open now,” said Michelle Smith, an organizer of the event, which drew an estimated 600 people.

Smith co-founded the statewide Facebook group Open Texas with fellow North Texas resident Grant Bynum just two weeks ago, and it’s already grown to almost 50,000 online members.

She said the group is unified around the beliefs that all businesses are essential and healthy Texans need to get back to work to restart the state’s economy—especially small businesses, which have been hardest hit by the government-mandated shutdowns.

“We are a support rally for you,” Smith said, addressing the many small-business owners in the crowd.

Smith said the Frisco rally was the largest happening in the state that day. Similar events took place Saturday in Austin, San Antonio, Granbury, and Boerne.

Business owners, doctors, pastors, and activists addressed the crowd.

“Everybody matters. … There are no non-essential people,” said Dr. Stuart Spitzer, a surgeon and former state representative. Spitzer said the threat of COVID-19 is real, but so is the damage being done by the coronavirus closures.

“You’re not wrong to question if this is not being handled the way it should be,” he said. “What we’re doing is causing harm, and we should do no harm.”

“Hairstyle warrior” Shelley Luther, the salon owner who was ticketed by Dallas police on Friday for opening her “non-essential” business, drew cheers when she tore up the cease and desist order issued by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

“I’m not anyone special,” Luther said. “I just know I have rights; you have rights to feed your children and make income. And anyone who wants to take away your rights is wrong.”

A cross-section of area residents filled the park across from Frisco City Hall on the sunny spring afternoon to show their support for small-business owners like Luther.

Attendees who spoke with Texas Scorecard said it was important to speak out and make their concerns known.

“Gov. Abbott, I hope you were watching the Open Texas rally,” said Suzanne Blackstone, a local conservative politics maven. “Doctors, professionals, and business owners told their stories of loss, frustration, and the urgent need to reopen Texas.”

“Texans are hurting,” she added. “The contrast is glaring—small businesses can operate safely; they are the bedrock of our economy.”

“I went to the rally to support our small businesses,” said Melissa Spence, a local resident and active member of Allen Area Patriots. “It is not constitutional to order Americans to shut down their businesses, especially when it appears the government is picking and choosing who can stay in business by designating ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ businesses.”

“Gov. Abbott needs to end the shelter-in-place order and allow businesses to reopen without threat of losing their license,” Spence told Texas Scorecard. “I think all businesses should open without waiting on a phased-in approach. Each business can decide how to handle the CDC guidelines for their workers and customers. We have to get our economy back on track.”

Kevin Williams, a conservative grassroots activist from The Woodlands who was in town with family, said the rally was inspiring.

“Knowing nothing about this virus and fearing the worst, our leaders overreacted,” Williams said. “Now that we’ve passed the peak and it’s clear that our hospitals will not be overloaded, it’s urgent that our leaders recognize they overreacted and reopen as much as possible—as soon as possible.”

Frisco Tea Party leaders Toni and Tom Fabry told Texas Scorecard they attended the event because they are deeply concerned about the damage being done to the state and local economy by the coronavirus closures.

“It seemed as if many in attendance had a more realistic grasp of the economic, medical, and sociological issues at hand than many of our politicians,” Toni said. “They understand personal responsibility.”

Fabry added she hopes Abbott considers the 14-point plan proposed by State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) to get Texans back to work safely.

But one local conservative activist said he’s glad he didn’t attend the rally. Plano resident Mike Openshaw, who has a background in virology, has been closely following the spread of COVID-19 cases and the effectiveness of various responses to the disease.

“Some here are showing what I call ‘viral common sense;’ too many here clearly are NOT,” Openshaw posted on Facebook after the event, adding he supports the move to open Texas now “but it has to be done SMARTLY to control the viral spread.”

Grassroots activists have been urging Abbott to release a data-driven plan for carefully reopening Texas businesses. Several North Texas lawmakers have also sent advice to the governor to reopen the economy safely and swiftly and get Texas families back to work.

Like Hall, State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney) and Collin County Judge Chris Hill said Abbott should immediately eliminate the artificial distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.

On Monday afternoon, Abbott is expected to announce his strike force’s plans for a phased reopening of the Texas economy.

Rally-goers in Frisco and across the state say they are ready for him to open Texas now.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.