At the start of 2015, inspired by the Bitcoin revolution, I started an activism project called the Rights Brigade where I organized various pro-freedom activities across the state of New Hampshire, compensated by Bitcoin donations. Our highlight was informing jurors of their right to nullify bad laws, to the tune of many thousands informed at 10 of the 11 courthouses in the state, some days with five simultaneous operations around the state involving dozens of activists. I ran into some organizational headaches, most notably in the difficulty of sending payments to long ugly cryptographic hashes and the lack of decentralized recurring payments. When I heard Dash was working on exactly these things, I put the activism on hold and went on to work full-time towards the advancement of these crypto technologies. Now, in 2020, we're much closer to solving these organizing pain points, but we're still not quite there.
Seeing what one guy alone could do five years ago with almost no budget and some really inferior tools at his disposal, I can easily see just how powerful for the world a streamlined, all-in-one, monetized, decentralized organizing app would be. To say that it could change the world would be a massive understatement. Here's what we need, what the perfect solution would look like, and where we stand now.
What I mean by "organizing" is, essentially, collaborating, communicating, sharing resources, and executing plans of action. Basically, any situation where a bunch of people are trying to get stuff done on a voluntary and collaborative basis (i.e. they aren't on the payroll of a company or other entity that can simply tell them what to do). Here's a few of the key tools needed to make this sort of thing happen.
Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, is an important part of organizing as it lets you not just keep a list of potential activists, but record important details including their unique areas of interest, when the last time was that you contacted them, what their response was, and so on. Really, the only way to successfully engage many people for activism is through personal touch, and the only way to replicate this level of familiarity over a large group of people is by keeping accurate notes. CRM does this.
A good organizing platform will have the ability to segment into multiple smaller groups depending on the specific interest area. This lets activists and organizers focus on dedicated workgroups as part of a greater movement without running into information overload.
The ability to create events (which can function as literal gatherings or simply as specific tasks with an end date and defined participants) can further segment activities by participant group, this time for temporary and highly-specific purposes.
Finally, any good organizing platform should have direct communications embedded in the platform itself. This prevents segmenting into separate platforms to communicate directly, and allowing an easy move into and out of private and public messages keeps the whole operation running smoothly.
Why Does It Need to Be Decentralized and Monetized?
Now those elements described above can be provided by any regular old app or company. Why does it have to be decentralized, and why does it have to have integrated financial transactions?
Platforms like Facebook have shut down groups
First, activism, by its very nature, seeks to usher in change. This means that much of it can be very controversial to the powers that be, whoever they may be at the present time, and that means that crucial organizing platforms can run the risk of getting shut down. We've already seen Facebook do this with "boogaloo" meme-filled pro-gun groups, and it's easy to imagine this happen to others. We need something that's resistant to censorship.
Funding is able to be shut down or is too difficult to disperse quickly
Second, controversial groups have always been targeted for demonetization. Using decentralized payment networks such as cryptocurrencies are naturally a great way to prevent against this, but let's not forget about the other silent financial censor: friction. The more of a pain it is to move money around, the less likely it will happen. In the interest of facilitating the running of functioning projects that make use of a wide spate of non-professional (i.e. not on a payroll) activists, monetary incentives and reimbursements have to be at the fingertips, every bit as much as every other aspect of organizing. Otherwise, you can have a well-oiled activism machine where lead organizers spend a lot of their valuable time and energy chasing around a hodgepodge of micropayments across a wide array of channels. Trust me, I've been there.
Now I'm going to describe what the perfect system would look like for organizing activism. Some of this you can probably guess from what I've said previously, but some of it is very specific to pain points in running a movement that's as decentralized as possible, and trying to keep the ability to both benefit spontaneous action and top-down organizing. If you're a developer or an investor, pay attention to the following, because there will be serious value in creating a product such as this.
Fully-decentralized, autonomous, customizable blockchain-based platform
The ideal system would be fully-decentralized, with no central group able to fail and take the whole rest of the system down with it. A blockchain-based network makes sense for this because of the decentralized architecture, and the fact that most of these systems have built-in incentive systems behind running the system, in contrast with other decentralized systems which may rely on the goodwill of people running it for free, or nonprofits (which then pose a centralization threat). It also should have the ability to be customized to fit the specific activism project's needs, as some may run on a more professional structure and others will be more of a "wild west" setup. A successful system will be able to cater to multiple needs.
Unified identity system
One of the major pain points in decentralized organizing is the need to interact across multiple identities for the same person. They have one account on social media where a lot of the reporting happens, have a separate private messaging platform, also may need to be added to an internal workgroup on a third platform, and finally have completely separate payment information. An integrated organizing platform must have all of the above under one platform: the public-facing social media contact is the same one added to the private workgroup, who you can message privately and send money directly. All under one human-readable username.
Public social "consumer" and private "producer" sides
To some organizers this may seem a little superfluous, but I strongly believe that there needs to be a social aspect to a successful grassroots activism project. In addition to private groups where activists communicate, plan, execute, and receive tips, there needs to be a public side where outside observers can see what's going on, get excited, provide feedback, help fund operations, and possibly decide to join as active participants themselves. Without both levels of participation available on the same platform, either the existing pool of activists will become more insular and closed-off in private groups (and possibly lose focus and momentum), or a great deal of organizing will start happening on other social media channels where exposure to the general population occurs. Serving both roles on the same platform guarantees that the most participation from the highest number of relevant people takes place.
Of course, in the most perfect of worlds, this system would be built as part of a widely-used social media platform, so that people living their daily lives can nonetheless be exposed to an activism project and be able to easily join from any level, from keen observer to donor to active participant, without joining a new platform.
Automated and customizable payment-splitting options
As fantastic and exciting as it is to run a decentralized system with no central funding source and leveraging spontaneous tips, one does tend to run into issues of either centralized funding chokepoints or lopsided compensation. If a project is centrally-run, all donations run through the chief organizers, which then have to be trusted to fairly compensate activists, and you can run into a situation where a founder who started a killer idea or brand soaks up all the resources while the tireless activists who do the actual work get little for their effort. Alternatively, an organizer can put countless hours of their time into research, community building, logistics, organizing, and more, and the star activist shows up on a path carefully curated for them and receives all the attention and donations. Both situations show potential for abuse, but even more likely they promise to restrain enthusiasm, the natural resource upon which activist operations thrive. The financial compensation, rather than an avenue for making a living, is a spark to light the fire of enthusiasm, a Pavlovian response generator that rewards good actions and in so doing creates more of them. If the incentives don't follow the actions, the actions slow or cease.
An ideal system would add the ability to automatically split payments among participants in a customizable way. A few possible setups include a centrally-run group where activists on the roster automatically receive a portion of all donations to the cause; event or task-specific organizing where members of a successful operation split the donations generated; individual activists directly receiving all tips generated, with a percentage automatically going to the organizing group that lined up the opportunity and resources necessary to take effective action; or a combination of any one of these. A well-designed system with effective payment-splitting options can empower activists and organizers to simply get to work and not have to worry so much about whether everyone is getting treated fairly.
Integrated and smooth crypto and fiat on-ramps
Finally, however the monetization of such a system is designed, it must include ways for people with fiat currency, or a different kind of cryptocurrency, to easily onboard. This can't be a throwaway "Here's how to buy" PSA, but has to be seamlessly integrated into every part of the platform possible.
"Ugly Hacks" Today
During my time running the Rights Brigade I did what I could with the limited tools and expertise at my disposal. I used Facebook extensively for organizing, communicating with activists, and posting reports on achievements. I used a really clunky CRM called Bitrix24 to manage tasks and activists, a terrible Wordpress website to publicly post achievements (which were then shared to Facebook), and a hodgepodge of Blockchain.info Bitcoin wallets and QR code images to receive and distribute donations to the various activists. It was ugly, it was clunky, it was all pretty centralized around me and used mostly censorship-prone services, but I got stuff done regardless.
Things have since changed, with a few key tools evolving, but it still remains very "bootstrappy" for activists today. Here's a few ideas on how to achieve similar results to a dream solution via ugly hack, much as I did back in the day.
LBRY for publishing and monetization
Right now, the LBRY decentralized content platform takes care of quite a few problems from back in my day. First, it lets you create a channel for all different types on content (pictures, articles, videos, etc.) and host them in a decentralized fashion where they can't be taken down, and cost virtually nothing to host. Second, all this can be viewed by the general public by subscribing to content channels. Third, and most importantly, LBRY lets users tip for valued content, and not only do these tips constitute funding, but they boost the visibility of the content. This one service takes care of monetization, content hosting, and some elements of content sharing, all in an integrated and censorship-resistant way.
Discord or alternative for organizing (and some payments), Hubspot for CRM
Now we get back to the ugly side of things. A Discord server can be made to handle organizing and messaging, and some private channels can be created to resemble CRM. Most notably, via the various crypto bots that Discord has available, you can actually tip out to specific activists in real time. You can also use a service like Hubspot to take on a more powerful CRM role, but that means that you now have to wrangle three services, not two.
Flote: Promising contender or letdown?
There has been one promising contender that has potential to work for this sort of thing: Flote. Right now, Flote is basically a Twitter-like social network with encrypted messaging, Bitcoin payments, live streaming, and, most importantly, recurring Bitcoin donation packages. That takes care of some of the social posting, as well as communications and payments. But what's promised to be coming soon is what really makes this interesting. First, Flote plans to add groups (similar to Facebook), except these could be monetized (whether it be through ads or subscriptions), and has mentioned the future ability to run localized instances to improve censorship resistance. This could essentially make Flote a one-stop shop for organizing activism: create segmented groups for general fans, supporters (paid membership group), and activists, allow sponsorship for both activism groups and individual activists, organize all activism, and message and pay individuals, all on the same censorship-resistant platform.
The catch is that Flote's development has been pretty slow, even to add more than one cryptocurrency, which hasn't happened despite the high Bitcoin fees wrecking the whole crypto Patreon model of small subscription payments, and the platform still has quite a few bugs. The whole idea of using Flote as the perfect platform revolves around several important future developments, which may or may not happen. Hence, I'm not necessarily holding out for this one.
The world desperately needs the perfect organizing platform. Who will be the first to deliver?
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