Encountering the DISC in Democratic Party
What is the DISC?
Those of you familiar with Eric Weinstein and his podcast, The Portal, will doubtlessly know what the DISC is without my explanation. In his most recent two episodes, Weinstein elaborated on this concept. DISC stands for “Distributed Idea Suppression Complex.” It is an abstract entity that permeates our major institutions, primarily in academia, the mainstream media, and politics. Its function is to gatekeep ideas that may challenge or undermine a prevailing elite, even if such a challenge is not the intent.
I was not doing anything quite as groundbreaking, but I do think it was, nevertheless, something very important, and that was why I was stopped dead in my tracks.
Critically, this is not a conspiracy theory. The crucial detail of Weinstein’s model here is that nothing is planned or orchestrated. It is more like an autoimmune response and nothing at all like the Illuminati. Our brains don’t have to command our white blood cells to attack foreign objects. They basically just do that on their own. This DISC functions in a similar manner. It is a decentralized system with very few conscious decisions. It is an unspoken agreement for most of those at the top of our social hierarchies. It is, in fact, this indirect, unconscious nature of it that makes it so impactful. People participate as cogs in the DISC, often without realizing it.
In these recent episodes, Weinstein and his brother, Bret, discussed moments in which they had made advances in physics and biology (respectively) and had their advances eschewed and rejected, only to be used by the very actors that kept the gate in later years. Weinstein, of course, knows that this is not exclusive to him and his brother. He sees it in several other areas of society. He has tweeted about how MSNBC does it to folks such as Andrew Yang in the Democratic primary, noting the DISC operates to protect the mutual interests of that news company and the DNC.
In my own work in the Democratic Party, at a more grassroots level, I too have encountered the DISC. I did not realize it at the time, because the concept had never been articulated, but Weinstein has helped me to see that this is, in fact, what I encountered and something that also set me back. It caused me quite a bit of displeasure and still does. I was not doing anything quite as groundbreaking, but I do think it was, nevertheless, something very important, and that was why I was stopped dead in my tracks.
This is the story of my own clash with the DISC. Before I get into it, I will say that I am going to avoid being too specific in the details, namely as it concerns individual identities, and this is because I want to avoid accusations of defamation. I’m a broke millennial, after all, and I can’t really handle a legal battle. I know that sucks, but stuff like that is why the DISC is effective.
My story begins at the end of 2016. I had just run for the North Carolina House of Representatives as a Democrat, hoping to flip a seat against the Republican incumbent. I didn’t win, and the lesson I took away was that I could not get elected in a place where I do not reflect the voters. Even though I ran in my hometown, this appeared to be the case. I had to pick a new place to restart my life.
I had lived in Chapel Hill during my time as a student there. When I looked at the electoral data, I saw that Orange County (where Chapel Hill is), was the only county in the state’s Piedmont region that was won by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries. This is not a surprise, given the presence of the University of North Carolina and the young, millennial population there. They were Feeling the Bern.
Moreover, my challenge wasn’t simply running in an area that was too Republican. I had clashed with my local Democratic Party in my hometown, basically along primary lines. I not only needed to go to an area where I could succeed as a Democrat, I needed to go to an area where my brand of “Democratic” could succeed. Thus, I settled on returning to Chapel Hill. By December of that year, I was officially moved in as a resident again.
I immediately began attending meetings of the Orange County Democratic Party and introducing myself to the local leaders there. I sensed that it was, indeed, a more progressive slice of the Democratic Party, even if most of the active people were not the millennials that gave the county to Bernie. By the spring of 2017, I had become a precinct vice chair, which entitled me to a vote in the county party’s meetings, and I also became one of the county’s sixteen representatives to the State Executive Committee, which entitled me to a vote in the party at the state level. This was a rather quick progression.
What I regard as the crowning jewel of all of this followed shortly thereafter. During the State Convention of the Democratic Party in 2016, I had met some people interested in forming a Progressive Caucus inside of the party as an affiliated organization. Other examples of this include organizations such as Young Democrats or Democratic Women. They are semi-autonomous branches that set their own agendas but must conform themselves to general rules of the party, and they are entitled to representation in the state party in a similar manner as the counties. I had kept my eye on the development of the Progressive Caucus (which I shall call “the Caucus” henceforth), and by the summer of 2017, they had finally finished the formalities and been accepted by the state party as an affiliated organization and could form county chapters.
For clarity, the Caucus was basically a preservation of the Bernie campaign within the party. These are progressives in a very straightforward sense, much like Bernie Sanders, in that they advocated a return to economic policies in the vein of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Many of them were independents who had joined the party in order to support Bernie. These people are not the left-wing hardliners that advocate primarily for identity politics, so when I talk about progressives from this point forward, you know what I mean and what I do not mean.
Leading the way
On the last day of June that year, I contacted the president and vice president of the Caucus, and they explained to me the process and designated me as the organizer for Orange County. Within six weeks, I accomplished exactly that. I wrote by-laws, hosted three preparatory/informational meetings, and founded the Progressive Democrats of Orange County in mid-August. Out of 100 counties in North Carolina, I was the first to organize a county chapter and the only organizer who ever accomplished it that quickly. I was also elected as my chapter’s first president and began governing the organization that I had set up.
I spent much of the rest of 2017 focusing on this task. While most members of the chapter were much older than I, I had also been active in the party for much longer (I got started when I was fourteen). Again, many of them joined the party, in order to support Bernie, so most of the ideas and initiative were coming from me. I developed a strategy for growing the organization’s membership/influence and appointed committee chairmen to focus on specific areas of this strategy. At the time, the other officers in the chapter liked my strategy and seemed to agree with the direction I was taking things. Even when I asked for suggestions and critiques, I got almost nothing. I was actually surprised, because there was some boldness to it.
I intended to use our membership numbers in order to win partisan offices and, in effect, acquire the governing power of the Democratic Party for ourselves, so that it could be more progressive. I wanted a Democratic Party, at least at this level, that would not tolerate the abysmal ethics that had come to define the DNC in 2016 (and again, now, in 2020). This is important because reform in the party trickles up. Winning at the local level is what gets progressives the voting rights to decide partisan matters at the state and national level. If one wants to reform the DNC, the current structure requires organizing successfully at the local level first.
Encountering the DISC
As I continued to meet more and more Democrats and elected officials, I did so as a president representing his organization. I got more and more people to join too. These were mostly pleasant encounters with people who were willing to engage with me in good faith and with open minds, even if they were long-time party members and had voted for Hillary. Many of them still had a soft spot for Bernie, and, of course, several had voted for Bernie too. They were happy to see momentum carrying over from his campaign.
This networking went well because it was mostly occurring in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the area of the county where Bernie had gotten his densest concentration of votes. This is territory that is favorable to outsiders and non-establishment figures. All of this changed when I inevitably made forays into Hillsborough. Hillsborough is where I had my one encounter that went south.
This is where I have something in common with Bret Weinstein. His phone call to Carol Greider seemed innocuous at first. He didn’t realize at the moment that he had stepped in a hole, and the same went for me.
Hillsborough is the county seat, where the county government is located. It is much smaller and more removed from the influence of the university. Chapel Hill has over 100,000 residents. Carborro has tens of thousands. Hillsborough has about 6,000. It has an older population. It is a place where Bernie did not do well. It is a place that is much happier with the DNC-leaning half of the party. Again, this is not a conspiracy, just how the pieces happen to have fallen.
Nevertheless, there was an organization there called Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action (HPTA), and it seemed more active and influential than anything. The head of the group at the time had also joined the Caucus through the website, so it seemed like a group of people worth meeting. I contacted this lady and arranged to meet on a morning at a local eatery, when HPTA would next meet. I wish it had been later in the day, because I came to the meeting groggy and unready for what was to come.
The first fifteen minutes had just been between me and HPTA’s head, and it was a pleasant encounter, as usual. The change occurred when the other members arrived, which included an elected official of the Hillsborough city government. When the meeting commenced, I began to introduce myself and my organization to them. The elected official began to wonder, “Well, aren’t we all progressives?”
So I explained to her what I and the Caucus meant by “progressive,” namely that were were trying to get the party to reembrace its New Deal policy initiatives and get big money and corrupting influences out of the party. She then suggested to me that we were a bunch of “purists” that were derailing the party. That’s not an exact quote (again, this is from over two years ago and when I was groggy), but this is not an embellishment either. Naturally, I argued with her about this point, and while it wasn’t exactly hostile, it was certainly unpleasant. We interrupted each other. We went in circles for a bit. It was hardly what I had hoped to accomplish in my ongoing mission to grow the chapter. We eventually ended it, and the rest of their meeting proceeded, and I went home. I felt a bit defeated, but since it was just a single meeting that went poorly, I didn’t think much of it.
This is where I have something in common with Bret Weinstein. His phone call to Carol Greider seemed innocuous at first. He didn’t realize at the moment that he had stepped in a hole, and the same went for me.
Taking the fall
Two weeks later, I received an email from this elected official about our exchange. By this point, I had almost forgotten about it entirely because I continued traveling the county and reaching out to people and mostly having the same good results that I had been having before. And again, this wasn’t exactly a heated argument that we had. Her email, however, told a different story, and she chided me for my behavior, likening it to women who get mansplained in corporate boardrooms. (Quick aside: There’s probably nothing more tone-deaf than telling a broke, millennial progressive about the petty struggles of someone making a six-figure salary.)
One of the fastest-growing and most successful chapters in the Caucus was snuffed out by a single elected official who was not going to have any of that.
I responded by pointing out that one the first things she said to me was an insult (purists undermining the party) both at me and my organization, that she was the only person who had treated me this way, and that I had every reason to defend myself from such a claim. We exchanged a few emails, and again we went in circles, and again we got nowhere and broke it off. Again, one would have thought it would just end here, but no.
Apparently, she did more than email me. She also contacted the other officers of the chapter and complained. I still don’t know what she said, but apparently they believed her without question, before even consulting me. They thought I had shown up and been a boorish mansplainer, end of story. It was at this point that I noticed a pivot in the attitudes of my fellow officers, from trust to distrust.
In the following months, they began to resist and break ranks. When I tried to organize canvassing operations for 2018, that we might recruit locals into the Caucus (and this had been in the strategy I wrote the previous fall that they told me they supported and even praised), they would not have it. They, flat out, refused. Efforts to win more partisan offices were resisted and derided as “too competitive” (again, these had been explicitly listed in my strategy and endorsed by them). They even complained that I had not actively worked to set up a Medicare-for-All discussion panel that the chapter did late in 2017, a project I had delegated to a committee so that the committees could mature to a level of self-sufficiency (again, this stuff was all in the strategy that they read and endorsed). Until that meeting with HPTA, my work with the other officers seemed to be a mutual, cooperative relationship.
By around March of 2018, however, the other officers no longer wanted me to use any of my governing ability in the by-laws. One recalls how Cersei Lannister treated Robert Baratheon’s last will. It is also important to remember that we were all volunteers, so I really had no enforcement mechanisms, and my re-election was coming up in June, so standing up for myself would have only gotten me booted out.
They, however, still did not want to remove me as president for a couple of reasons. One is a hunch, but I think it would have looked bad if a bunch of Baby Boomers and older Gen X-ers had chased out their millennial founder and president, especially when I was about the only young person. Another reason is, as aforementioned, the fact that they were all still fairly new to the party and had no idea how it functioned and little experience in political organizing. They wanted me to stick around to consult them on whatever alternative strategy they would want to compose.
Of course, I was having none of that. After wondering for about a month of what to do, I realized that the chapter was out of my hands and was not going to pursue anything minimally ambitious enough to make the Democratic Party more ethical and accountable at the local level. I resigned as president and let them have their sinking ship. I didn’t go around and complain. I didn’t want to undermine their ability to salvage something out of the chapter, even if I assumed the chapter was doomed.
And yet, doomed they were. Their membership shrank after I left. They stopped being prominent in the county. A year after I resigned and stopped attending meetings, I had people coming up to me, assuming I was still the president of the chapter and asking me questions about it. The president who succeeded me was apparently a non-entity by comparison and unknown in the county party, which I take as a measure of failure. Another measure of failure came in the spring of 2019, when it came time to elect new members to represent the county at the state level. This was the first test of the chapter, and while the female seats were uncontested, the male seats were a different story. I sat and watched as every single male progressive failed to get elected to the SEC. There had been no preparation, no effort by the chapter to supports its members in the election.
The DISC had succeeded. One of the fastest-growing and most successful chapters in the Caucus was snuffed out by a single elected official who was not going to have any of that. The gate was kept.
Just as the Weinstein brothers stopped trusting academia and didn’t make efforts to publish their work, I stopped trusting the party and gradually retreated from any involvement. I gave the Caucus in general about another year, even though I had given up on my chapter. The Caucus president had always been a supporter of mine for the work I did to grow the organization and appointed me as chairman of a Caucus committee to support other counties in organizing. Traveling the whole state was something I attempted to do that proved cumbersome, given the time and expenses it required, as well as the fact that Caucus members were generally not good at participating in committee work, so I was essentially a one-man army. I began to urge the Caucus to cover the expenses of officers who actually do their jobs and to fundraise if needed. This brings us to another area where the DISC disrupted the Caucus.
The DISC had struck and hit its target again, with a single person sowing immense confusion.
Orange County was the first chapter to be organized (by me), but it was not the first chapter. Wake County had created a chapter of progressives in its local party as far back as 2004. It actually was the inspiration for the Caucus statewide when the Bernie campaign in 2016 essentially organized the progressive base of Democrats. When the Caucus was approved by the state party, the Wake County chapter, which already existed, was grandfathered in as the first chapter, bypassing the usual organizing methods that I had followed.
One gentleman from Wake County came along and threw a wrench in everything else that the Caucus had going for it. This was a man who had failed to be elected as a delegate to the DNC in the past, and he really wanted to be a part of that club, so he committed himself to aiding the establishment in Wake County. He joined the Caucus and advertised himself as an expert on by-laws and parliamentary procedure and got elected as chairman of the Caucus’s by-laws committee.
He then convinced the Caucus president (who unfortunately had also only recently become a Democrat and knew little about the party’s rules) that the grandfathering of the Wake chapter was not legal. Not wanting to endanger the Caucus’s acceptance and legal standing with the state party that had only narrowly occurred, the president revoked the chapter status of the Wake progressives (this was around the beginning of 2018). He then assigned an organizer to assemble a brand new chapter, which they did, but this had created a split in the Wake progressives. The new chapter consequently failed to make quorum to conduct its own business and got nowhere fast. The DISC had struck and hit its target again, with a single person sowing immense confusion.
This gentleman did not stop there. Where the Caucus committees failed to assemble consistently (if at all), the by-laws committee under this guy flourished. He bombarded each of the Caucus meetings with hazy by-laws amendments, which became incredibly monotonous. One of these amendments increased our quorum requirements, which he convinced everyone was essential to pass. After it was approved and took effect, the Caucus failed to meet quorum for the next three meetings in a row, around the time I was pleading for subsidizing the expenses of officers. We couldn’t even meet to decide how to spend our money in the first place. I was tired of having my time wasted and resigned altogether.
While the Caucus eventually managed to make quorum and repeal that amendment, the damage was done. People got frustrated and decided not to renew annual memberships, artificially lowering the quorum total and making meetings possible but also lowering our manpower. The dispute over the Wake progressives spilled into the Caucus and derailed it further. To this day, the Caucus flounders and appears beyond repair. The gate to the party was kept.
I wondered if maybe I had been totally wrong from the start. Maybe I deserved what I got. Maybe I had been too ambitious and competitive in the party. Late in 2018, I had a conversation with the president of the original Wake progressives. He began to discuss the work of that chapter, before there had been a Caucus, from 2004 to 2016. He explained how they had worked to organize precincts in the county, so they could get progressive chairs and vice chairs who would thus be entitled to votes in Wake’s county party meetings. He told me how they organized themselves at county conventions to ensure that progressives would be elected from Wake to have a vote in the state party. He explained similar efforts for similar offices in the party. In other words, he told me that, for twelve whole years, progressives in Wake, whom I had never met, were implementing the exact same strategy, to a tee, that I had developed and written for my own chapter in Orange.
And this was my next Weinstein moment. It was that “Eureka” moment with negative undertones, which I guess can be called a “Dysreka.” Just as Bret and Eric, years later, saw their advancements being used and pushed by someone else, I was getting the exact same confirmation about my strategy (although he had not stolen it from me). This guy who had been at it longer, whose chapter was the inspiration for the Caucus itself, told me that I had stumbled upon the exact plan I was supposed to have for my chapter.
I don’t think this elected official from Hillsborough or this gentleman from Wake have ever met each other. Nevertheless, they quickly moved to shut down threats to the establishment of the Democratic Party here in North Carolina, as soon as they detected it, in manner much like what Weinstein has described. They were manifestations of the DISC, of an autoimmune response in the Democratic Party, and they moved through indirect, defamatory manners that played upon uninformed and ignorant crowds to derail those in their paths.
These events and others that I could tell really hurt. The chapter I had organized was like a baby of mine or a work of art (and you guys can see some of my art here on Medium to know what I mean by that). All the work I did to make the Democratic Party more accountable, while also trying to plant seeds to make it more electable, just blew up in my face because actors who want to defend the system acted swiftly. The corruption and abuse of power in the Democratic Party exists beyond the DNC. It manifests itself through brutal patronage relationships at the grassroots level as well that allow for decentralized policing and, frankly, sabotage.
I still think the Democratic Party can fix this country, but it needs a lot of home repairs before it can do so. We need something to break the Gated Institutional Narrative (another Weinstein term) that enables this. At the moment I am mostly out of ideas, but I am attempting another run for the NC House, here in Chapel Hill.
I hope this story informs you all decently and that it motivates you to do something good and productive, even though I know something like this is likely to produce more anger. We really do not need more anger. We need people who are more excited about the utopia and less about the revolution. I also hope it inspires you to share your own encounters with the DISC.
I also hope Eric comes across this and can get a few ideas on what to do. He is a Democrat like me, however begrudgingly, and he does have a role to play in reforming it. For those of you Republicans out there, I hope you are also noticing where the DISC exists in your party and are thinking of how to counter it. Fixing America is going to be a bi-partisan job, after all.
Anyway, that’s my story. Thanks for reading.