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Cryptocurrency supporters are in the middle of their first big fight in Congress

Cryptocurrency supporters are in the middle of their first big fight in Congress


The ‘infrastructure’ for advocacy was already there

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Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

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 largest domestic spending bill in almost a decade, and nearly every powerful lobbying shop circled Washington for months trying to shape its language.

But one industry was surprisingly thrown into the fight last minute: cryptocurrency. When the Senate finally announced the bill text earlier this month, it included a provision that could impose devastating new tax requirements for wallet developers and miners. Suddenly, the cryptocurrency industry and its few lobbying shops faced one of its largest regulatory threats ever. They needed all of the digital foot soldiers they could get to help rally senators and fix the problematic language.

So, they turned to their vast and vocal online community of investors and posters.

“We are at an advantage in grassroots organizing because we’re a structurally networked community,” Neeraj Agrawal, director of communications for Coin Center, told The Verge. “Everybody in cryptocurrency knows everybody else for the most part so information moves really fast across various social channels.”

Advocacy groups and blockchain organizations were quickly able to direct their grassroots digital community’s energy toward the fight. Fight for the Future and the Electronic Frontier Foundation were able to prompt more than 40,000 calls to senators ahead of the bill’s final vote on the floor. 

High-profile celebrities and influencers like Ashton Kutcher and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also came out in opposition of the bill, posting tweets prompting their followers to call on their senators to fix the language. These tweets inspired other community members to take part in the effort by making calls and posting their own tweets with information from Fight for the Future. 

“The reason this even became a conversation in Washington was because of Twitter”

“Senators who were probably not even paying very much attention to this section of the infrastructure bill suddenly saw their Twitter feeds swamped with messages from their own constituents,” said Rainey Reitman, EFF’s chief program officer. “It was so much they couldn’t ignore it.”

“The reason this even became a conversation in Washington was because of Twitter,” Reitman continued.

Even crypto-focused YouTubers and TikTok accounts pivoted toward advocacy, informing their followers about the bill and how it could affect the industry. One TikTok user posted a video dancing behind text that said, “Dance if ur an 87 year old senator single-handedly ruining the economy over a $50 billion military dispute,” calling out Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) objection to an amendment to fix the language.

It’s a surprising shift for an industry that has typically been an outsider in Washington, often directly opposed to well-established players like law enforcement and the banking industry. But as digital assets companies have been drawn into regulatory fights, they’ve had to engage with the process to defend themselves, whether against regulators calling for more authority over the industry or a growing concern over ransomware attacks.

The new push drew heavily on infrastructure from previous online organizing drives. The 2017 net neutrality fight was fought largely online with organizations like Fight for the Future and EFF using social media to prompt internet users to get involved in a policy battle that affected their favorite websites. Once the controversial language was added to the infrastructure bill, those same groups used the tactics they’d perfected in the net neutrality fight to push back.  

Reitman says the shift to digital organizing has also been a factor, as cryptocurrency fans “are using online platforms like Twitter and Hacker News to educate themselves, educate other people, and then start speaking out about regulation.” 

Even with the heightened political pressure, it’s too early to say where Congress will land on the new cryptocurrency rules. Cryptography groups failed to stop the provisions in the Senate, and all hopes now rest on stripping the language from the House version of the bill. 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 say they won’t vote for the Senate-passed $1 trillion package unless it’s tied to a broader $3.5 trillion social services bill. Some moderate Democrats pushed back, saying they wouldn’t vote to begin writing the larger bill unless the infrastructure package is approved first. If the two bills get tied together, it could make it harder for any lawmaker to bring an amendment to change the cryptocurrency language to the floor.

Still, last week’s organizing efforts proved that the cryptocurrency community has grown into an impressive political force in Washington. 

“It was really amazing to see how quickly they were able to turn that functionality on and get so many people involved,” Kristin Smith, executive director at the Blockchain Association said. “It’s definitely a turning point for the industry and I think one that will hopefully lead to better policy down the road.”