Gutknecht: A Tribute to Strong Women

Throughout history, strong women have challenged the status quo by standing firm and refusing to be bullied. On this Mother’s Day, permit us to pay tribute to three of them. 

Gil Gutknecht

Throughout history, strong women have challenged the status quo by standing firm and refusing to be bullied. On this Mother’s Day, permit us to pay tribute to three of them.

When Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus the afternoon of December 1, 1955, she didn’t expect to become a national figure. She had finished work as a seamstress at a Montgomery department store and just wanted to get home. As required by local ordinance, she first entered the bus in the front to pay her fare, then exited, going to the back (Negro) entrance to re-board the bus. She dutifully took her seat in the black section at the back of the bus. If she was looking for trouble, nothing in her behavior evidenced it.

As the bus continued the route, it filled with mostly white people. The driver noticed that white people were standing while blacks like Rosa were still seated. At one of the stops, he went back to instruct black passengers to give up their seats at the back (in compliance with another city ordinance) so that the white passengers could be seated. Three of the black passengers complied.

Rosa refused.

She later admitted that it wasn’t so much that she was tired, she said she was “tired of giving in.” The bus driver over-reacted and called the police. She was arrested and ultimately fined $10 plus a $4 court fee. In the process, Rosa Parks created a firestorm becoming a national figure. Her simple act of civil disobedience changed the course of American history.

All because of her refusal to abide by a local ordinance that she considered both unfair and arbitrary.

Fast forward to Dallas. Hairdresser and salon owner Shelly Luther, in defiance of a government shut down order, re-opened her salon. Her staff of beauticians was mostly women with kids. They had gone without work long enough. She was arrested and hauled into court. The judge showed no mercy. He called her selfish and asked her if she had anything to say in her defense? Shelley Luther rose and answered with words that lit up social media and thundered across the Texas plains:

“Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she told the judge. “If you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”

The judge, a black judge named Eric Moye, fumed. He ordered her to jail for seven days and fined her $7,000 for her act of civil disobedience. Anyone else see the irony?

She instantly became a national heroine. The lieutenant governor offered to pay her fine. Within 24 hours a GoFundMe account had raised over $500,000 on her behalf. Americans voted with their dollars. The Texas Supreme Court ordered that she be released from jail. Texas Governor Greg Abbott gasped! He announced that barbershops and salons would re-open. The governor scrambled to clarify that his “orders” were never intended to put people in jail. Maybe he and most of his fellow governors misunderstand the meaning of martial law?

Imagine that.

South Dakota has not been immune. It has had at least one serious outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls. But, their death rate and unemployment rate are significantly lower than Minnesota’s (where everything is shut down).

Experts will surely attempt to explain that away. Weren’t we supposed to follow the data?

So today, in addition to being thankful to our mothers, we should remember that we are all better thanks to some strong women. Women who stood their ground and heroically refused to be intimidated.

Gil Gutknecht

Gil Gutknecht is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota.