“Am I moral?”
That’s the question Betty Gissendanner wants Floridian voters to ask themselves as the general election looms.
Known throughout the community as Betty G., an outspoken voice of the Charlotte County Democratic Party, she warned that red states like Florida and Georgia, where black Democrats are vying for Governors’ seats, could be hotbeds for hotheads.
Within a week of the Florida primary results, the Republican candidate used the term ‘monkey’ while referring to the polices of Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee and newly elected Democratic nominee for Governor of Florida.
“Good people are tired of all the divisiveness,” Betty G. said.
The first in her family to graduate from high school and college, Betty G. grew up in the days of Jim Crow. Born in Alabama one of 10 children of sharecropper parents, she went to segregated schools until high school.
“By tenth grade, a judge ordered the white school integrated. The white kids thought we had tails. But there were some good teachers, and the principal was good. One day he ordered a bunch of us to his office. I was scared, I was a good kid. He made it clear—no more fights, then he dismissed us.”
Betty G. was called back. The principal wanted to know what was going on. “Solve the problems on the buses and things will be all right,” Betty G. told him.
“Once the principal heard that white kids who sat in the back, threw things at the black kids up front; and that the drivers did nothing, the principal threatened the drivers with loss of their jobs. Things settled after that.”
Betty G. learned a valuable lesson attending that newly integrated public school: the importance of standing up for the disenfranchised.
Years later, living in Florida working as an insurance agent, Betty G. got a political wakeup call. Someone from the Democratic Party stopped by her office and asked if she would make, get out the vote, calls. Betty G. did her part. Since then, she has served as president and treasurer of the Charlotte County Democratic Club, treasurer of the Charlotte County Women’s Club, Vice Chair of the Democratic Party and as a statewide party figure.
With no promise of reward or recognition, Betty G, has helped build a community seeking fairness and opportunity for all. Over the years, neighbors, friends and business associates have relied on Betty G.’s leadership and sense of fair play to advance their concerns.
But in the tumultuous election season, Betty G. has been sidelined by cancer.
“I’ve got a great medical team and of course, I have my faith,” said Betty G. “People come in shifts to help me out. My son William Douglas Gissendanner was recently here.” Betty G. who will never relinquish the office of proud Mother, lets friends know, “Doug just completed 19 years in the Air Force. He’s now a master sergeant. He calls me all the time.”
But the election’s not far from Betty’s mind. She calls the results of the Democratic primary ‘fantastic,’ and is certain Gillum can win.
“He brings real opportunity for us,” Betty said.
“Families are struggling to make ends meet. We’ve got to get to them. Gillum wants to increase teachers’ salaries, raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, enact stricter gun control laws, provide Medicare-like health insurance for everyone and protect our marine life and beaches.”
Betty G. thinks the local party is in a good position to help Gillum and the rest of the ticket.
“I’m proud of Patrick Hurley,” Betty G. said. Speaking of the new Chairman of the Charlotte County Democratic Party, Betty G. expressed confidence that Hurley will continue the work she and members have worked so hard to achieve.
Betty G. will not canvass neighborhoods or man phone banks, this election, but she has good advice for volunteers who do.
“Remember, democracy is like a contact sport. Engage in conversation, but talk less about policy and more about our shared values.”
Betty G.’s wise words echo her original question, “Floridian voters: Are you willing to ask yourself,
Am I moral?”