‘You be quiet, girl:’ Alabama Democrats’ board meeting made private after members protest

By: - July 29, 2023 5:44 pm
Randy Kelley, wearing a suit and holding a program in one hand, standing in front of a podium, a flag and a flatscreen TV mounted on a wall.

Randy Kelley, chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, presides over the party meeting in Montgomery on July 29, 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The leadership of the Alabama Democratic Party (ADP) Saturday kicked members of the public out of a meeting without starting it.

ADP chair Randy Kelley said in an interview Saturday afternoon that they had to conduct the meeting in an executive session because members of the public were being disruptive.

“They weren’t on the committee,” he said. “They were a guest. And we didn’t know who those people were.”

Members of state political power protest bylaw changes
Members of the Alabama Democratic Party opposed to the new bylaws passed in the controversial May 6 meeting gather for the “Bring Your Own Chair” rally before the party meeting in Montgomery on July 29, 2023. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The motion at the first meeting since the party leaders passed new by-laws and eliminated diversity caucuses in May, came amid a protest from about 15 members of the eliminated groups and supporters.

As a result of eliminating diversity caucuses, 53 members lost a seat on the party’s State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC). The state Democratic Party faces an investigation by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) over the bylaw changes and elimination of caucuses.


The Saturday board meeting’s agenda included a vote to approve job descriptions for the party’s executive director and director of communications. It also included a report from the chairman as well as a delegate selection report, a report on the process of selecting delegates for the national party convention, and a congressional reapportionment update.

Michelle French, a member of the SDEC, the governing body of the organization, attended the protest Saturday. She said she saw a young, diverse and energetic party during SDEC elections at a meeting in August 2022. Now, she said, she couldn’t believe she had to protest her own party.

“They’re disenfranchising their own people,” she said.

Tabitha Isner, vice chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, hands Joe Reed, the chair of the Minority (Black) Caucus, a piece of paper at the party meeting on July 29 in Montgomery.

Before establishing quorum, Alabama Democratic Party Chair Randy Kelley and Joe Reed, chair of the Minority (Black) Caucus, attempted to stop attendees from recording the meeting. Kelley repeatedly asked that people unplug their devices, and Reed threatened to throw recording devices outside.

“The chairman is presiding,” Reed said. “The chairman has ruled that there will be no taping and no film. If you got a tape or a film in this room, unplug it out of these walls.”

Members said the state party bylaws require meetings to be open to the public.

James Ward, the vice chair of the Hispanic caucus that was abolished in May and elected member of the SDEC, objected to the request, saying that allowing recording would help restore trust in the state party.

“There is a lack of trust in your leadership, and I’d like to record,” he said.

In the interview after the party meeting, Kelley said “they’re not recording our meeting for any good.”

“They are recording our meeting in order to undermine our organization,” Kelley said.

Tabitha Isner, the vice chair of the state party, objected to Reed’s request, stating that Alabama’s law allows recording when at least one party – the person recording – knows about it.

Reed interrupted her and shouted, “You be quiet, girl.”

Members of the public were asked to leave the July 29 meeting in Montgomery after a back-and-forth between elected members regarding whether the meeting should be recorded. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)


At a May 6 meeting, the SDEC voted to abolish the youth, LGBTQ+ and disabled caucuses, while reducing the power of other minority caucuses. The meeting was tumultuous. Members of the affected caucuses, some of whom are Black, sharply criticized the moves, saying they stripped key groups of representation. They also criticized the passing of the bylaws and called the vote questionable.

Kelley and Reed argued the prior bylaws diluted the power of Black Democrats, the biggest part of Alabama’s Democratic electorate, to lead the party. Kelley, who has called the critics “losers,” said that the changes did not cost anyone representation and better reflect the Democratic electorate.

SDEC member Eddgra Fallin, in an exchange outside before the meeting with protesting members, said that Black Democrats deserve more representation than other minority groups “because of slavery” and “that’s why [Black Democrats] get to determine.”

“When Hispanics came to this country, they didn’t come into slave ships. They weren’t forced to labor for free for 400 years. They did not suffer Jim Crow. They have the right to vote. They have not had to fight for anything,” she said.

The Alabama Democratic Conference sign outside the building in Montgomery. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

A large share of Hispanic and Latino immigrants remain in the country without legal status due to problems in the nation’s immigration system. Legal residence does not give an immigrant the right to vote. Only after becoming a naturalized citizen would an immigrant be allowed to vote.

Children of immigrants brought into the country long before they could make decisions for themselves, have been fighting for the right to work and go to school in the country for over 20 years.


Isner and 42 other Democrats filed a complaint in June with the state party. The DNC voted in June to review the complaint.

After the Saturday meeting, Isner said that the only thing that could have warranted an executive meeting was personnel matters related to salary. She said that during the executive meeting, they rehashed the argument that “no one lost representation” with the new bylaws, discussed delegate plans and tried to remove her from the 1st vice chair position. She also said that three vice chairs presented reports, but she was not involved in drafting the agenda and was not asked to bring a report.

Since the original complaint, there has been two more filed: one by Ralph Young, a member of the ADP, and April Hodges, chair of the abolished Hispanic caucus.

Young sent a letter dated July 1 to the Democratic National Committee asking rules and bylaws committee (RBC) co-chairs to place a restraining order on the vote concerning the delegate plan. Young’s letter to the RBC cited Hodges’ complaint, another party member, alleging the state party purged at-large members because of their race, ethnicity and other identifying factors.

Fallin said it was “insulting” that they were being accused of discrimination and exclusion, because “nothing is true.”


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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.