December 12, 2019

#153 The Real Enemy, Part 2

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

The second part of our story — the war rages on. A third faction emerges.


[Theme Music]

PJ: So this is episode 2 of our story, The Real Enemy. If you have not yet heard episode 1, none of this is going to make sense to you, please go back and listen. But just a quick refresher, when we left off, Emmanuel was telling the story of a fight between two factions of Democrats in Alabama. 

On one side, a group of Democrats led by Senator Doug Jones. On the other, a group led by Joe Reed. When we left off, these two sides were headed towards a massive showdown.

Joe Reed is trying to protect a Democratic party in the South that is run by black people. Doug Jones believes that as long as that party is led by Joe’s deputy Nancy Worley, they will never beat the Republicans. Emmanuel will take it from here. 

EMMANUEL: So, in August of 2018 that committee of party leaders, the SDEC, holds an election for party chair, and Nancy Worley runs to keep her seat.

Joe Reed has made it clear that no matter how much Democrats in Alabama may blame Nancy for the party’s failings, she is his choice, his trusted ally. And normally, that’s all it would take — Joe Reed’s allies would just reelect her.

But this time it’s different. Doug Jones, newly elected senator, announces that he has his own candidate that he’ll be putting forward to run against Nancy.

And whoever wins this fight, whether it’s Joe Reed or Doug Jones


 — that person will effectively control the future of a Democratic Party in Alabama. 

The Doug Jones camp is worried for two reasons. The first is that they need to break up Joe’s majority to get enough votes.  

The second, is that okay, let’s say they do get enough votes, the person in charge of the meeting where that election is gonna happen is Nancy Worley. 

And they do not trust Nancy Worley.

I’ve had Democrats whisper to me about sketchy things she’s allegedly done in past elections, like announcing results without actually counting all the votes. Nancy disputes this, but -- in any case, when the day of the actual vote rolls around, Doug Jones’ people make sure to record the meeting.


It takes place in this giant theater, and it’s packed — with Joe Reed supporters, Doug Jones supporters. And they’re all sitting in darkness, looking up at the stage, where Joe Reed and the party’s officers are seated at a long table.

The vice chair, who happens to be a pastor...

RANDY: Let us pray 

EMMANUEL: Opens with a prayer.

RANDY: Eternal God our father, thank you for the blessing that you’ve given us. We thank you for the Democratic party...

EMMANUEL: And then the person who this fight is actually about — Nancy Worley — she steps up to the podium.

NANCY WORLEY: At this time I will call the meeting to order and welcome all of you here today to our organizational meeting which occurs every quadrennium. [under] 

EMMANUEL: Nancy’s a short white woman. She’s got gray hair, dressed in a colorful floral patterned shirt, sort of a mix of, like, folksy and eccentric. 

NANCY: Organizational meetings tend to be controversial. [under] 

EMMANUEL: And right from the start of the meeting you can tell that Nancy is just trying as best as she can to keep this from getting ugly. 

NANCY: I would ask you today to be very, very respectful of your fellow Democrats.

EMMANUEL: Then Nancy gives up the mic. And it’s time for the election for party chair.

RANDY: The floor is open for nominations for chair. [under] 

EMMANUEL: A couple of older black men get up, walk over to the mic and they make their big pitch for why everyone should vote for Nancy.

DEM 1: I’d like to nominate Nancy Worley. She’s bonafide. 

DEM 2: I second the motion.

EMMANUEL: That’s it. Like, that’s their whole pitch. She’s bonafide.

But then...


It’s time for the other side to make their pitch. 

DOUG: My name’s Doug Jones. I’m the 1st Democrat elected to the US Senate from Alabama since 1992. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to nominate for change. 

EMMANUEL: Doug Jones, he starts his speech – and it’s immediately clear how frustrated he is with the party.

DOUG: There’s no money being funneled to communications. There’s no money being funneled to social media. There’s no money being funneled to get out the vote. 

EMMANUEL: He tells the crowd, now is our chance to change this.

DOUG: We have an opportunity to seize the moment that you guys individually not as a party, but individually provided–

RANDY: Time–

DOUG: In December of 1997. I nominate my friend, former Hefflen staffer, former Folsom staffer, a great lawyer, a great Democrat: Peck Fox, from Montgomery Alabama. Plea!


EMMANUEL: It’s funny because even though this speech is longer than the Nancy is bonafide one, in a way, Doug Jones is saying exactly the same thing, which is just “trust me.” Like he only actually mentions Peck Fox, his party chair nominee, once. 

So Doug Jones is asking for kind of a lot here. He’s asking black Democrats to ditch Joe Reed and go with his candidate, a white guy that they’re not that familiar with.  

I spoke to one of those black Democrats, somebody I figured he’d have at least a shot of convincing.  

DEMETRIA YOUNG DOUGHTY: My name is Dr. Demetria Young Doughty, JD.

EMMANUEL: Doctor and a JD? 

DEMETRIA: Just the JD is a doctor. 

BOTH: (laugh)

DEMETRIA: It’s the esquire that you really want. 

EMMANUEL: Demetria is brand new to that leadership committee, the SDEC. She’d volunteered for Doug Jones, helped him win his election. She is exactly the type of Democrat Doug Jones is betting on winning over. 

….But the thing was, the day before the vote, Demetria had driven down to Montgomery early because Joe Reed had invited her to breakfast.  

DEMETRIA: Got a hotel because I didn’t wanna be late ‘cause I’m always late. Wanted to be able to be there for the minority caucus that morning. So I came down. I was at the breakfast. And–

EMMANUEL: The breakfast what is that?

DEMETRIA: That was the Minority Caucus breakfast that Judge Joe Reed gives for us.

EMMANUEL: This is a famous, or maybe infamous breakfast. It’s a Joe Reed tradition. It happens before every party election. The black members of the party leadership come together, new members are welcomed, they chat over coffee, there’s orange juice, but really what it is, is an orientation to join Joe Reed and his allies. 

And that morning, Joe Reed had a heavy piece of news to deliver to the room: we are under attack from an enemy I know all too well.

DEMETRIA: He just said there is a–there are some people that are coming at us. And I do remember him calling them the Dixiecrats of old, which I didn’t remember ‘cause that’s before my time. That’s my granddaddy’s time 

EMMANUEL: (laughs)

EMMANUEL: Demetria’s thinking, wait who are we under attack from? Like, have the Republicans just gone undercover? And she’s looking around at other new members for direction here.

DEMETRIA: They were looking at me and I was looking and them and we were kind of like “what?” And he was like, “don’t worry about it.” We’re going to let you know what’s going on, you know, but be very careful. We’ve got to band together. This is about an all out attack to destroy the Democratic Party. Well you know those words just right there to me was like, okay let me just pull my sleeves up ‘cause, you know, I didn’t come down here for nothing. ‘Cause my constituents, I’ve gotta answer to them.

EMMANUEL: You’re thinking, oh okay we’re–I’ve gotta be ready to fight? 

DEMETRIA: Mhm, yeah. ‘Cause he never said who it was.  

EMMANUEL: After the breakfast, Demetria and the others headed to the vote. And on the way into the theater, she ran into Doug Jones. He recognized her and was happy to see her

DEMETRIA: So he hugged and he kissed me, and I didn’t think anything. And he said, “We’re gonna have a great day.” And I said, “Great! Great!” You know?

EMMANUEL: Oh, so you see Doug Jones and you’re like, “Oh, we’re on the–okay, someone on my side”? 

DEMETRIA: Yeah ‘cause this is somebody I just helped got elected and I’m proud of. So I’m not thinking that Doug is coming there being adversarial, not in a million years. 

EMMANUEL: Which brings us back to this moment, at the election, when Doug Jones nominates Peck Fox, a white attorney, for party chair 

DOUG: A great lawyer, a great democrat, Peck Fox from Montgomery Alabama. [under] 

EMMANUEL: Demetria is watching from her seat...


EMMANUEL: And she hears these murmurs of discontent from the other black people around her. They’re not happy.

DEMETRIA: Then it starts to occur to me, wait a minute. And I start going back over the breakfast. I start putting ‘em all together.

EMMANUEL: The enemy that Joe Reed had warned her about was Doug Jones.


And just as Demetria realizes this, Joe Reed gets up to the mic and says, “Alright let’s do this thing.” 

JOE REED: Yeah, let’s vote. Let’s vote. [cheering] 

EMMANUEL: So the way this election works – there are no ballots, everyone is just supposed to stand up when their candidate’s name is called out. Demetria’s sitting there, weighing her options. 

DEMETRIA: ‘Cause I didn’t really want Nancy. I really didn’t. I thought we needed better, but I didn’t know this Peck guy.

DEMETRIA: Am I doing any better with staying where I am? Or coming over here where you handpicked some person?

RANDY: All in favour of Peck Fox stand.

DEMETRIA: When the vote went down, it was clearly a-down racial lines. 

RANDY: Now all in favour of Nancy Worley please stand.

DEMETRIA: Because all blacks stood up for Nancy, all whites stood up for Peck. And it made me feel like I was back when I was a little girl in the ‘60s, late ‘60s here. Where, you know, blacks – you had to go in that side of the room, or whites had to go in that. I just didn’t like it. It hurt my heart. 

EMMANUEL: Remember Demetria was a first timer, she didn’t know that this is what happens at SDEC meetings all the time. She hadn’t watched videos showing Joe Reed’s allies rising as one to keep the people Joe didn’t trust off the committee.

This was her first time seeing the power of Joe’s majority. 

RANDY: Let me announce that Peck Fox has received 89 votes and Nancy Worley has been elected–re-elected as the chairperson of the Alabama Democrative Party (cheering) at 101 votes.

EMMANUEL: Demetria voted for Nancy, but she did not feel good about it. 

EMMANUEL: And when you left there that day, what were you–how were you feeling after it?

DEMETRIA: I felt like I wanted to fight, you know, physically fight. Because I felt like I had been let down by the people that I had trusted, be that Dr. Reed, be that Doug. And I was just angry. I was literally angry.

And I did have a conversation with Dr. Reed that day. And I do have nothing but respect for him I’ll say that. But I told him I said, “This will be the last time, from here on in, I will sit it all out before I will stand up for something I don’t know and don’t believe in.” He said, “You got a long way to go. And you’ll find out.”


EMMANUEL: Joe Reed, for his part, denies that this conversation ever happened.

I wanted to talk to Doug Jones and Joe Reed about how this had all gone down. I talked to Doug Jones first, and told him how Demeteria had felt. 

EMMANUEL: She said she was–it upset at her. That it felt that like that vote, in that room that day, was–whether you wanted it to be or not, was divided among racial lines.

DOUG: (off mic) It was. And who did that?

EMMANUEL: And how did that feel–how did that make you feel, sir?

DOUG: It made me feel terrible. But I didn’t divide it along racial lines. Joe Reed divided it along racial lines. That’s the problem. Joe and ADC is dividing this along racial lines. We’re not. I didn’t make it feel that way. Joe Reed and ADC made it feel that way, and they continue to do that by calling people a Dixiecrat, comparing folks to George Wallace. They’re the ones that have made this a race issue. 

EMMANUEL: Doug Jones, unsurprisingly, thought it was all Joe’s fault. But when I spoke to Joe, he said something really surprising. Just kidding, he blamed Doug Jones. 

There was this other bigger thing though. Because by this point Doug Jones’s side was accusing Joe Reed of election tampering. Among other things, they claimed that the vice chair had counted more votes than their were actual people in the room. So I asked Joe about it: 

EMMANUEL: And with the party chair election, people are saying that more people voted in that election. That there are only 145 people signed in. 

JOE: That's not true. That is not true. 

EMMANUEL: What is the truth? 

JOE: I'm not gonna defend anything that we did ‘cause everything that we did was right and proper.

JOE: He didn't get enough votes. And she got more votes than he got. They got–if they had won, hell, you think they would have been arguing? Absolutely not. 

They're arguing because they lost. They're sore losers. That's all. 

EMMANUEL: Doug Jones’ people are 100 percent convinced this election has been stolen from them. As far as they’re concerned, they’re owed a new party chair.  


So as a last resort, they kick this all the way up to the one organization that has power over Nancy and Joe: The Democratic National Committee, the DNC.

After the break, Joe Reed squares off against a new foe. 


EMMANUEL: Welcome back to the show. So the Democratic National Committee investigates the election between Peck Fox and Nancy Worley and determines it is not up to their standards.  

They tell Nancy, you have to hold a new election for party chair. 

And this is the moment that, months later, I keep thinking about: Joe Reed’s first big mistake. I don’t know if he realized yet what he’d done. But his brinkmanship had invited the DNC into his backyard. Which meant Joe had put himself in a very dangerous position. 

Because when the DNC started poking around, of course, like, one of the things they noticed was this weird, special rule that gave Joe Reed a ton of power in Alabama. Sure, it guaranteed black representation on the leadership committee, but what about Latinos or other minorities? 

The DNC tells Nancy, she need to fix the bylaws, the rules of the party... 

And as part of this fix -- the DNC wants Nancy to change the Joe Reed rule. 



EMMANUEL: Can you hear me?

HAROLD: I can hear you. Yes.

EMMANUEL: Okay. Great, great! How are you? 

HAROLD: Good. 

EMMANUEL: I talked to a DNC official who was given the unenviable job of getting Nancy and Joe to agree to these changes. His name’s Harold Ickes. He’s an old hand. Been in politics a long time – Bush, Gingrich – Harold’s scrapped with the best of them. 

But his experience with Nancy and Joe? That was something else. 

HAROLD:  I guess in life, there's nothing unique, but this comes pretty close to unique.

EMMANUEL: Oh, really? It's that different? 


EMMANUEL: The best way to describe the dynamic between Harold and Nancy is: idealistic substitute teacher meets very difficult student. Harold asked Nancy to turn in some new bylaws, but on the day they were due his email was empty.

HAROLD: I drafted a set of new bylaws, sent them down to Worley, she did not respond.

EMMANUEL:  And wait, wait. So she was supposed to write these bylaws–


EMMANUEL: And she just didn't?

HAROLD: She didn't.

EMMANUEL: And you, then you were like, ‘Oh wait, I'll just do your homework for you,’ and you basically send it to her to sign off on them?

HAROLD: I wrote a complete set of bylaws, sent them to her, we sent them to her. Complete, complete radio silence. We were, we were stunned by it. 

EMMANUEL: Harold was totally mystified by Nancy’s behaviour. But actually to anybody who’s lived in Alabama, this kind of response is not surprising. It’s practically a local tradition. Tabitha Isner had even told me about it.

TABITHA: I don’t know if you know this about Alabama culture, but, um, the “says you” culture here.

EMMANUEL: Says you?

TABITHA: Says you! Like, as soon as somebody else says that Alabama needs to do something, oh, Alabama’s not doing that.

EMMANUEL: Again and again the role that these two words played in Alabama was impressed upon me. By the people I interviewed, by the driest of political history books. As if “says you” was a founding principle of the state.

Abortion is legal now? Says you. Schools have to be integrated? Says you. Our state Democratic party has to follow a new set of rules? Says you. 

The DNC, however, is not charmed by Nancy’s says yous. 

HAROLD: People who are in power too long, and they get used to that, and they don't want to give up power. And they think they have a right to it.

And they think that anybody else who voices any other opinion is, you know, comes close to being a terrorist. 

Joe Reed has been the power in the Democratic Party for a long time. And did he do–has he done a lot and accomplished an enormous amount in his lifetime? The answer is a resounding yes. Joe Reed was on the forefront of the civil rights movement in the ‘50s and the ‘60s. He was there when, you know, you took–you literally took your life in your hands if you went up against the white power structure. He deserves an enormous, enormous amount of credit. 

Times change, younger people want to come into the party. They're Hispanics now that should be represented the party. LGBTQ ought to be represented. And they were shut out. They were shut out.


EMMANUEL: For 6 months, Harold and the DNC try an escalating series of punishments to make Nancy fall in line. 

They strip her of her credentials, kick her out of the national party. But it doesn’t change anything. 

The closest Nancy comes to cooperating is to send over one draft of proposed new by-laws – a draft that doesn’t touch the Joe Reed Rule at all. So it’s clear … Nancy and Joe Reed are not budging. 

Finally, the DNC gives Nancy and Joe one last chance. They have one more month to fix the bylaws and hold a new vote for party chair.  

The problem is, it’s been more than a year since the Peck Fox election. A yearlong power vacuum has made people restless and edgy. They’re losing faith that the grown-ups are actually gonna fix this. 

So some Democrats, like Tabitha Isner, decide it’s time to take matters into their own hands. 

TABITHA: Okay, we’ve gotta figure out a way to solve this. And the only other way to solve the problem is for the SDEC membership themselves to call for a meeting. 

EMMANUEL: Normally it was Nancy’s job to call meetings. But if Tabitha can get the majority of the SDEC onboard, they can call their own meeting, and use it to change the bylaws and kick Nancy out. Seems simple enough. 

TABITHA: But in the real world what that looks like is figuring out a date, figuring out a location, reserving a ballroom on your own.

EMMANUEL: Oh like, there’s like–actually just like, how do you plan a meeting?

TABITHA: How do you actually plan a meeting when you're 250 people spread across the state who don't necessarily like each other, trust each other? You've not–got to find a 50 percent plus one who are gonna work together enough in general to agree that we should have a meeting. And then not just in general agree but like, get all of your signatures on a single also need to find, like, where are you gonna send ‘em? And is everybody gonna agree that that’s the appropriate PO box? Who’s gonna monitor it? Who’s gonna certify that it was fair? See, you’re like, you’re like–

EMMANUEL: This is starting to make me stressed out. Yeah.

TABITHA: You’re stressing out just listening to me talk about this. So, as I started thinking about this, I was like, this is never gonna happen without help. Someone has to be the catalyst. 

EMMANUEL: Tabitha decides — she’ll be that person. She’d run a campaign on her own, she knew how to organize. 

She had already put herself forward as a possible candidate to replace Nancy, but now Tabitha starts reaching out to democrats across the state to get them on board with what is essentially a coup.

I should say - Tabitha objects to this word, and while I see it as a coup, in her defense, it is possibly the most polite, by-the-books, Sunday school take over in political history. 

It starts…


with a video conference call. 

TABITHA: Hey y’all


EMMANUEL: I have to admit, I was skeptical. I thought that maybe, I don't know, ten people would join this thing.



EMMANUEL: But by the time I logged in, there were already a dozen people in the room. 


VOICES: This is Christie Kirkland. This is Donna. Kathy Lambert... 

EMMANUEL: And within a couple of minutes maybe 40.



TABITHA: Hey, welcome.

MALE SPEAKER 4: Elijiah from Montgomery.

EMMANUEL: Maybe 50.

FEMALE SPEAKER 2: Judy Taylor from Tuscaloosa.

  FEMALE SPEAKER 3: Hey, Guys it’s Willisha.

MALE SPEAKER 5: I’m from Mobile, I’m actually in Africa right now...

EMMANUEL: So many faces were crowded on the screen that I could barely make them out. But this I could tell… 

TABITHA: Real quick, name, where you’re calling in from.

EMMANUEL: That almost everybody on these calls was white. 

TABITHA: Trisha MClane from Eruda. Corey Krill from Elmore County.

EMMANUEL: And within a couple of minutes, Tabitha introduces herself. 

TABITHA: So if you don’t know me already, I’m Tabitha Isner. Hello! And, um, I want to give a little background on how we got to this point.

TABITHA: Tabitha starts to lay out her plan. Her coup will be shared, cooperative, and transparent. Enough with powerful men telling everyone to just trust them. 

TABITHA: We need to make sure that Democratic voters across our state are having their voices heard. 

EMMANUEL: But as she starts describing her bold new vision, somebody interrupts as if to say, Hey not so fast. 

[MUSIC ends]

DOUG: Hey, Tabitha.


DOUG: Tabitha, I don’t mean to interrupt but I really–this is uh Doug Jones.

TABITHA: Hey, Senator Jones–

DOUG: And I’m- I’m–hey I appreciate the opportunity to come. Can I give some folks an update on where things stand as of today? Because I think it’s really important [dips under]

EMMANUEL: Doug Jones explains that, basically, he and a small select group have been already working on this problem themselves. They’re actually really close to solving it. And then he heads off the call. 

TABITHA: So, um– 

DOUG: Okay. I’m–I’m out if that is okay–

TABITHA: Okay. Thanks so much.

DOUG: I’m probably going to drop. Thank you, buh bye. 

TABITHA: Thanks for being here. 

EMMANUEL: To Tabitha, this moment was a little humiliating, but Doug Jones just felt like he was just doing his job. 

DOUG: You know look, you can't please everybody all the time. What I was trying to do is to tell people a lot of work has been done on this for a long time. We’ve been trying to get these bylaws changed for a year. Now all of a sudden, Ms. Isner’s coming in late to the party wanting to open source something that was just going to set us back, and we didn’t have the time.

TABITHA: Doug Jones came in and said, "It would be easier if we do it...We’ll reserve a space, we’ll write the documents, we’ll take care of it.” He is right. It is easier. But I think the party would have grown more because the folks who prefer backroom deals are the folks who are most threatened by transparency. And attempts to have grassroots power are terrifying to people who have authoritarian power.

EMMANUEL: But all of this, like, it's still kinda democratic, right?

TABITHA: Yeah. Yeah, kinda. (laughs)

EMMANUEL: And what’s the kinda?

TABITHA: It's not, it’s not that it’s bad. We’re all so damaged from having leaders that we don’t trust. And there is so much distrust of everyone, and you can’t get anything done when you don’t know who to trust.

EMMANUEL: The way Tabitha sees it, the people in her video conference want to trust one another. They want to build a party together. And to do that, they don’t need Doug Jones’ approval. So when he leaves the call, Tabitha, she just picks up right where she left off. 


TABITHA: Okay, this is a big project...

EMMANUEL: And over the next couple of weeks, Tabitha’s band of grassroots Democrats plows forward. 

TALKER 1: Hello all  

TALKER 2: good morning!

EMMANUEL: Meeting up in their video calls…

TABITHA: Let's go over what we did last meeting...

EMMANUEL: Without any more interruptions from Doug Jones, they form different teams. One team to work on getting enough people to call for a meeting.

TABITHA: Is getting the cover letter finalized.

EMMANUEL: Another team to try and invite new people to the party.

WOMAN: Over 120 individuals who have expressed an interest in the various diversity caucuses...

EMMANUEL: Night after night I’d log on to watch their progress.

TABITHA: We are already a little over a quarter of the way towards our fundraising goal. 

EMMANUEL: I actually started to feel like I was watching something you don’t get to see very often, at least not in public. Democrats getting along, forming coalitions, and making something happen. 

Finally towards the end of September, team 3 reports, “Okay we’ve booked a ballroom at a Marriott outside of Montgomery for October 12th.”

TABITHA: I think what we’re saying is yes for the Prattville location? 


EMMANUEL: This is where they’re going to be able to hold that meeting and get one step closer to getting rid of Nancy Worley. And starting a new party.

But no sooner do they do this, then Doug Jones pops his head back up with his own announcement. 

[MUSIC ends]

He says he’s calling an official meeting for the exact same purpose. But it’s going to be a week earlier, on October 5th. 

So Tabitha’s people are wondering, will their meeting be the official meeting or will Doug Jones’ meeting? And while they’re trying to figure that out, everybody gets an email from someone else they’d basically forgotten about.

TABITHA: October 5th.

CONFERENCE CALLER:  Okay, y’all. Hang on, hang on, hang on. 


CONFERENCE CALLER: Nancy just called a meeting.

TABITHA: On Facebook or by email?

CALLER: By email. Zero minutes ago. On October 12th.

TABITHA: We called for a meeting on the 12th. Senator Jones called for a meeting on the 5th, and Nancy Worley called for a meeting on the 12th.


TABITHA: All three had locations booked.

EMMANUEL: You guys can't–

TABITHA: We had no meetings–for 13 months, we couldn’t get a single meeting. And now in 24 hours we have three meetings.

EMMANUEL: Tabitha doesn’t want to burn bridges, so she scraps her meeting and tells people, ok, go to Doug Jones’s instead. But that means there’s still two competing meetings.


One that Doug Jones and his people have put together, and another that Joe Reed and Nancy Worley have put together. So which meeting is the real meeting?

Remember, this is happening in October of this year, like 2019... somewhere out there the Republicans, presumably, are like, I don’t know, drawing each other elaborate new gerrymandering maps or dreaming up new push polls for next year’s elections.

Meanwhile for Democrats, the war of the meetings rages on. And Demeteria, like poor Demeteria, 


she just wants to know which meeting to go to. But of course, whichever meeting she goes to, that declares whose side she’s on. 

In fact, she receives a letter from Joe Reed making that very clear.

DEMETRIA: It said about upcoming meeting, October 12th. 


DEMETRIA: Please be reminded that our chair Nancy Worley has a- has–has set a special meeting of the SDEC for Saturday October 12th at 11:00 AM to consider some new bylaws. This is a very important meeting. It is imperative for you to be present. Clear that day because this meeting may be long. 

Second paragraph. I am told that someone is calling you in the name of Doug Jones. This is not possible. Nancy Worley has already reserved the facility, and nobody can call a meeting if the chair has already called one. Keep in mind that in the past, the only people who have sent you letters regarding SDEC meetings have been Nancy Worley and me. Therefore, if you receive mail from anyone other than Nancy Worley or me, it is fake.

EMMANUEL: This letter goes on like this for awhile.

DEMETRIA: Senator Doug Jones is abusing his authority and betraying our trust. We worked like hell to get him elected US Senator. He is using every opportunity to weaken and undermine the black votes on the SDEC. Of all crimes, the worst crime is ingratitude.

EMMANUEL: Okay, so when you–when you saw this, what did you think?

DEMETRIA: What the hell is going on? I mean, I'm confused. Does that mean we're gonna have two meetings, and which meeting is going to be legitimate? I hear what he's saying in here. He alludes to Doug. So I'm trying to put all of this together, and what I said to myself was, "Demetria," and I do love my Saturdays and Sundays to sleep and regenerate myself so I don't look like my age. I'm going–getting up and I'm going to both.


EMMANUEL: So at the end of September I decide, I’m also gonna go to both meetings. I’m gonna go to Alabama and watch this fight up close – a fight between the mostly white Democrats and the mostly black Democrats. I wanted to see what the Alabama Democratic Party would end up looking like, and if in the end, there’d even be a party.

TABITHA: If half of the SDEC shows up on the 5th and passes–

EMMANUEL: You mean, like, this Saturday?

TABITHA: Yeah, two days from now. And passes a set of bylaws. And then one week later, a different subset of the SDEC shows up and they vote on–into effect a different set of bylaws, which bylaws are the real Alabama Democratic Party bylaws? That is the moment when we have two parties, two Alabama Democratic Parties, governed by two different sets of bylaws.

You think that Republican domination is severe right now in Alabama? If we split into the white Democrats and the Black Democrats, we are done. 

EMMANUEL: But the problem I think you have is that, like, it hasn't happened but it's basically already happened. So that's what you have.

TABITHA: I still have hope. (laughs)

EMMANUEL: (laughs) What do you–what do you hope? What- what–what could possibly be your hope at this point?

TABITHA: Well, I'm telling people this is a test of whether we can stay together. This is a family argument or an argument between spouses where you have to be more committed to the relationship than you are to the fight. The fight is worth having, don't get me wrong. But how you fight matters. And you need to fight in a way that makes it clear that I still wanna be in a relationship with you, no matter how this fight ends.


PJ: Next time on Reply All the conclusion of our story. Only one set of Democrats will be left standing in the end. 

Reply All is hosted by me and Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan and Catherine Anderson. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Rachel Cohn. Our theme music is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Music in this episode from Breakmaster Cylinder and Luke Williams. 

Special thanks this week to Lane Clemons, Josh Raby, and Will Boyd.

Matt Lieber is heated seats.

You can find our show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening, the next episode of this story is in your feed right now.