Advocates already had the ‘infrastructure.’
Last week, the Senate approved a massive infrastructure package making serious investments in building out the US’s roads and bridges. It would be the biggest domestic spending bill in nearly a decade. Almost every major lobbying organization circled Washington for months trying to shape its language.
Surprisingly, cryptocurrency was one of the industries that got involved in the Fight. The Senate announced the text of the bill earlier this month. It contained a provision that could have devastating tax consequences for wallet developers or miners. The cryptocurrency industry and its few lobbying offices were suddenly faced with one of the most serious regulatory threats they have ever met. They needed every digital support they could to rally senators and correct the inappropriate language.
They turned to their large and vocal online community for investors and posters.
“We have an advantage in grassroots organizing because we’re structurally connected communities,” Neeraj, director of communications at Coin Center, stated to The Verge. “Everyone in cryptocurrency knows everyone else for the most parts, so information moves very fast across different social channels.”
Advocate groups and blockchain organizations were able to quickly direct the energy of their grassroots digital communities towards the Fight. Fight for the Future, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others could generate more than 40,000 calls for senators before the final vote on the floor.
Celebrities and influencers such as Ashton Kutcher, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Ashton Kutcher also criticized the bill. They posted tweets encouraging their followers to contact their senators to correct the language. These tweets inspired others to join the effort and make calls and post their tweets containing information from Fight for the Future.
“THE REASON THAT THIS CONVERSATION EVEN BECAME IN WASHINGTON WAS THAT TWITTER”
Rainey Reitman (EFF’s chief programming officer) stated that “Senators, who probably weren’t paying very much attention this section of infrastructure bill suddenly saw Twitter feeds overwhelmed with messages from constituents.” It was too much for them to ignore.
Reitman said, “This became a topic in Washington because of Twitter.”
Even TikTok and YouTubers who are crypto-focused shifted to advocacy and informed their followers about the bill. One TikTok user posted a video of himself dancing behind the text, saying, “Dance if you ur an 87-year-old senator single-handedly ruining our economy over a $50 Billion military dispute.” This was in response to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) objection to correcting the language.
This is a remarkable shift in an industry that was traditionally an outsider in Washington and often opposed established players such as law enforcement or the banking industry. As digital asset companies are drawn into regulatory battles, they have had to engage in the process to defend themselves against regulators asking for more authority or growing concerns about ransomware attacks.
This new effort relied heavily on the infrastructure of previous online organizing efforts. The 2017 net neutrality fight was fought largely online. Organizations like Fight for the Future and EFF used social media to prompt internet users to get involved in a policy battle that affected their favourite websites. These groups used the same tactics they had learned in the net neutrality battle to fight back after the controversial language was included in the infrastructure bill.
Reitman said that the shift to the digital organization has also been a factor as many cryptocurrency enthusiasts “are using online platforms such as Twitter and Hacker News to educate themselves, teach other people and then start talking about regulation.”
Despite the increased political pressure, it is too early to predict where Congress will end up on the new cryptocurrency rules. Cryptography groups blocked the Senate provisions, so all hope rests on the House bill being stripped of this language. As of publication, it’s unclear if congresspeople will have one last opportunity to amend the bill before it reaches its final vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) faces an uphill battle in passing the infrastructure package at all. Progressive members do not approve the Senate’s $1 trillion packages unless linked to a larger $3.5 trillion social service bill. Moderate Democrats responded by saying that they won’t vote for the larger bill until the infrastructure package has been approved. It could make it more difficult for any lawmaker or legislator to introduce an amendment to alter the cryptocurrency language on the floor if the bills are tied together.
Despite this, last week’s organizing efforts proved that the crypto community had become an impressive political force here in Washington.
Kristin Smith, Executive director at the Blockchain Association, stated that “It was incredible to see how quickly they were capable of turning that functionality on and get so many people involved.” It’s a turning point in the industry and one that I believe will lead to better policies down the line.