AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Dozens of bar workers gathered outside the Texas State Capitol and marched to the Governor’s Mansion to protest Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order to shutter bars due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Organizers originally planned to hold the protest in Houston, but they said they moved the protest to Austin because “that’s where this decision was made.”
Bar workers at the protest said they felt singled out by the order, which allowed restaurants to stay open at 50% capacity. They said it’s an unnecessary punishment for bars that were following the recommended guidelines.
“We had hand sanitizer all over the place. We got the plastic over the register where they walk in,” said James Kopeck, who works for Chuters in Pasadena, outside of Houston. He said Gov. Abbott didn’t give bars enough of a warning.
“At nine o’clock on Friday, he said y’all shut down at noon. We had a big weekend planned,” Kopeck explained, saying he’s now concerned for his staff.
“We have our bartenders, our waitress…two bands we had booked, and our bar backs and everybody, now we’re telling everyone you ain’t working this weekend, and they were all planning on it. One of them, now she might lose her truck because she can’t make her truck payment,” Kopeck said.
But, the Governor said his decision is based on data, and where people are most likely contracting the virus.
“So many people who were testing positive for COVID-19, they were contriving it in bar type settings, and that’s exactly why we had to take the action about bars that we did,” Abbott told KXAN News Monday.
Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner arrested in May for reopening despite a shutdown order, joined the protesters and shared her support for their call to reopen bars.
“If you decide to open and defy the ordinance, it’s extremely important that you protect people as much as possible and not be part of the problem of spreading the virus. We don’t want everybody to just go wild. We want to make sure that everybody stays safe, and that bar owners are responsible enough to keep people safe and be open at the same time,” Luther said.
Luther added she and her boyfriend were at the protest because they are performers, and haven’t had a show in months.
“My boyfriend Tim and I, we are musicians as well. And I have not had a gig since the mid March. And so that was actually our biggest income coming into our household. The salon was kind of secondary,” Luther said.
Several speakers at the protest Tuesday called for bar owners to defy the governor’s order and reopen their establishments.
“I will not follow orders that are not valid,” Austin Talley said over a loudspeaker Tuesday.
Talley works as the operation director at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse in Austin, which recently had its alcohol permit suspended for 30 days by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. However, Talley filed a request recently to dispute that decision.
The Facebook event page for Tuesday’s protest listed over 900 people registered to attend with more than 4,400 people interested in the event.
Organizers stressed to participants that they need to wear masks and maintain social distance, but also said “we will only solve problems with numbers.” However, some of the people gathered at the protest did not wear any face coverings and shared a microphone to speak to crowd.
Organizers invited anyone associated with the bar scene — bartenders, managers, owners, bar backs, musicians, DJs, etc. — to join the protest.