Want to see racism at work? Meet the Alabama Democratic Party
You should go to an Alabama Democratic Executive Committee meeting, even if you are a Republican.
No matter what anyone says, racism is not a thing of the past, and there’s no better reminder — of its existence and of its corruptive, disruptive and self-defeating influence — than attending an SDEC meeting.
Last week Alabama Democrats gathered in Montgomery to fight the same battle they’ve been fighting for the last several years. Nationally, Democrats have done a good job of cobbling together many smaller constituencies into majorities, and with them winning the White House. Had no Republicans mastered gerrymandering congressional districts throughout the country, they’d probably have Congress, too.
But in Alabama, it’s a different story.
The Dems held their latest meeting at Montgomery City Hall. It’s a cheap venue, which works well for the Democrats’ pauper’s purse, and no matter how modest the building appears from the outside, the City Council chambers there are quite beautiful. A glass wall separates the chambers from the lobby. The Montgomery seal on the door reminds visitors of the city’s peculiar split identity.
"Birthplace of the civil rights movement," it says.
And also, "Cradle of the Confederacy."
On the other side of that glass wall, there’s an old black man talking to a crowd of seated black people — the Alabama Democratic Party’s minority caucus. Anyone who’s not a member of that caucus — mostly white Democrats, but some black members, too — is invited to leave.
Inside, the old black man, Democratic party boss Joe Reed, is giving the caucus its instructions and a yellow sheet with a list of names on it. Today the party will vote on nominations to fill some of the 50 vacancies on the executive committee, most of which represent majority white legislative districts in the state, which the Democrats have lost to the Republicans. If a name isn’t on the yellow sheet, they don’t get the caucus’s support.
Once Reed is done, the rest of the Democrats are allowed to file into the room. On our way in, I ask one of the members if Democrats have an equivalent to what the Republicans call RINOs (Republicans in name only).
"Are there DINOs?" I ask.
"I don’t know about DINOs," he says. "But we do have dinosaurs."
If there is a Jurassic Democrat, Reed is it. He rose to power having once been the associate executive secretary at the Alabama Education Association. He leads the black Democratic organization, the Alabama Democratic Conference, and he was once half of a cross-racial power-sharing pact, with the late AEA chief Paul Hubbert controlling the other half.
With the rise of the GOP in Alabama, most white elected officials either fled to the Republican ranks or lost their seats to GOP challengers. But that’s not to say there aren’t still white Democrats in Alabama. There are many, and they have come to this meeting to try again to find a place on the executive committee.
Once everyone has found a seat, the meeting starts. Republican conservatives will be relieved to know that the Democrats still begin their meeting with a prayer. They ask the Almighty for, among other things, leadership.
In a new stop on the agenda, the Dems read aloud the names of members who have died recently. Among them is Hubbert.
And then the main event — filling the 50 vacancies on the committee. One by one, Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley reads aloud the empty district seats committee members make nominations.
And immediately there’s a recognizable pattern. Most, but not all, of the nominees are white. And one by one, nearly all of the nominees are rejected by the party’s black caucus members.
Among the rejected nominees are county party chairs, former Democratic candidates for the Alabama legislature, an employee of the Southern Poverty Law Center and even a former party treasurer.
The Alabama Democratic Party is not a big tent party. It doesn’t even have a tent.
Of the black members of the executive committee, a handful doesn’t join ranks with Reed’s caucus. Among them is state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures who, after this exercise in futility is finished, asks Worley for a point of personal privilege.
‘I am embarrassed. I am appalled and I am ashamed to call myself a member of the SDEC," Figures says. "What I have witnessed here today is a travesty."
Figures is the only person willing to say out loud what everyone in the room knows. A bloc of members loyal to Reed have rejected many highly-qualified nominees because they won’t "kiss the ring." If your name’s not on Reed’s yellow sheet, there’s no place for you on the executive committee. The party, as it is constituted on the SDEC, would rather leave itself unrepresented in those districts than allow white members on the executive committee.
Don’t mistake this for reverse-racism. There’s no such thing as reverse-racism. There’s just racism. And whether racial politics is a means to an end for Reed or just the end itself, one thing is clear.
The Alabama Democratic Party under his control is a blatantly, openly racist organization.
— Kyle Whitmire (@WarOnDumb) July 14, 2015
Edited July 16 after a colleague pointed out that you can’t gerrymander the Senate because they don’t have districts. Doh.
November 22, 2017 at 09:29PM