In the Sotheby’s room in New York there was a special auction this Thursday. The wish object was one of only 13 original copies of the United States Constitution. The bidding started above 10 million dollars and its estimated value was between 15 and 20. But immediately one of the applicants on the phone sang: “30 million.” And there were only two left.
One was then unknown. But it was the other who made the auction something special: behind the phone was someone representing more than 17,000 people from around the world who had organized in less than a week in a community called ConstitutionDAO (DAO is the acronym in English for “ autonomous decentralized organization ”) and that they had raised 45 million dollars with the cryptocurrency Ethereum. It was the largest crowdfunding project in history and aims to be an example of a possible future for the network, the web3.
The two Sotheby’s employees who were singing the offers in the room were named Brooke and David. The man in charge of the hammer was encouraging them to raise the offer. Meanwhile, the internet was crazy. “Who is ours? Who are we going with? ”Asked thousands of people in the YouTube chat and on Twitter. In the end Brooke made the last offer and took the Constitution for 43 million. The nerves lasted 15 more minutes, until ConstitutionDAO announced that they were going with David. They had lost.
The adventure had started with memes a week before. “A Reuters article from September appeared on Twitter where they said that the United States Constitution was going to be auctioned in seven days,” says Miguel Piedrafita, a 19-year-old Spaniard who was part of the group of about thirty people who it was the germ of ConstitutionDAO. “In a couple of group chats on Twitter where I am, we started making memes and saying what happens if we do it? It started with jokes, then people who tweeted it, that you didn’t know if they were following you. At the end we said: let’s do a zoom ”. There a small group of about 15 was formed and they did not stop. Piedrafita was, he believes, the only non-American in the group.
Memes are not secondary here, but central. Why was a Spanish like Piedrafita interested in a project that consisted of buying a founding document, although emblematic, from another country? “Apart from being incredibly funny, that your group of friends say we are going to buy the Constitution and we go and do it, it seems incredible to me,” he says. Most of the memes were from Nicolas Cage, who in one of his films steals a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
If it all sounds weird, there is still more. Piedrafita hardly knows almost anyone in person in the group. “We are in 2021, post-pandemic, it does not matter that I do not personally know my group of friends,” he says. Live a little bit already in the metaverse.
Piedrafita, 19, born in Asturias, defines himself as “maker”: “I do things. It’s what I did for years and now I got into cripto [aficionado a las criptomonedas]. I’m still someone who starts new projects every week or every weekend, I’ll take more than 200 ″, he says. What he knows about programming, he has learned by himself. Now he also works at Showtime, an NFT social network, where he is a founding engineer.
Besides being excited to “Memeficate this into reality”, which means what it seems, “turn a meme into reality”, the purchase of the Constitution was intended to be a good marketing operation for movement. “Since I entered crypto it seems to me that this technology is the future and thus we show that this is worth more than to sell photos of lions for millions or the price of bitcoin,” says Piedrafita. “For me it is important to show people that this technology that we have been developing for some time has a use, it allows us to do things that were not possible before, we can collect money from all these people and we cannot get away with it, that anyone can participate from any country , even a teenager without a bank account ”, he adds.
This Friday afternoon it became known that the buyer of the Constitution was Ken Griffin, billionaire executive president of the investment fund Citadel. Griffin is known for his suspicion of cryptocurrencies. He is also a notable collector, but it would not be unthinkable that his intention had been to dilute an extraordinary achievement of the crypto movement. Just as ConstitutionDAO intended, Griffin will also donate the document to a museum, possibly in Arkansas.
This technology of the future is web3, the alleged third evolution of the web since its birth: first, open protocols; second, large corporations and, now third, this community of decentralized communities, organized by its users through tokens. ConstitutionDAO would be a more conspicuous example of what it could be: people voluntarily organized around a goal who manage themselves after paying an entry fee. “I do not know if it will end up eclipsing the web, but it does seem to me that this movement to recover the original ideals of the web, to be the owner of your data, respect for privacy if possible, are things that were there at the beginning”, says Piedrafita.
That final goal remains a distant, unknown and perhaps unattainable paradise. There is no shortage of detractors who laugh at the “crypto children” or at all the doubts it generates or problems it raises. But many of its users, like Piedrafita, already try to live in those places. Although its communication tools continue to be direct messages from Twitter and Discord, a community chat application that has been used mainly for video games.
“One thing that has surprised me and that is part of the reason why this has become so great is that everyone has their reason for buying the Constitution. We have had a lot of first and second generation immigrants who put comments like ‘I finally feel like I belong to this country’, there are people who do it because of memes, there are people for whom it is the first time that they collaborate with something crypto or web3. Everyone has their reasons, they are compatible, ”says Piedrafita.
Something is indeed changing. The growing normalization of cryptocurrencies, the arrival of NFTs and now this explosion of a well-managed DAO in a few days give a measure of its popularization. “In 2017 we couldn’t have done this. The user experience was rubbish. Since then we have been improving and it is much more accessible, ”he says.
But that does not prevent problems. These communities must organize to make decisions. The forms of government for groups of 10,000 people are poorly elaborated. For example, the weight of each vote. There are two radical positions: one person, one vote, or one dollar, one vote. Piedrafita suggests one that reduces the weight of a taxpayer’s money the more he puts in, with the aim of preventing him from having veto power over the entire community.
Although this time someone has bid more, ConstitutionDAO is also an example of the money that is already in the world of cryptocurrencies waiting for its destination. This Friday there were already proposals on Twitter for members to vote on the future of the community. Someone proposed, for example, to become a “political action committee” (PAC) to give money to candidates in the US. There are other DAOs that intend to buy NBA teams or organize video games. Access is with the purchase of tokens, but there are also DAOs that are dedicated to doing things, with which collaborating with time is enough to access.
For many, including myself, this contribution will become the first donation toward a concerted education effort@ConstitutionDAO already brought in so many people onto web3, let’s keep it going https://t.co/CK6uvUpnBO
— Brian Fakhoury (@BrianFakhoury) November 19, 2021
One of Piedrafita’s roles on ConstitutionDAO was to be one of the 13 members of the group whose vote was necessary to move the funds obtained. Under normal conditions, it is the entire community that votes on the destination of the funds, but this time due to legal implications they had to speed up the process with a subgroup that would also help prevent a possible leakage of money. ”We would all have to collaborate to get the money. Has no sense. We would spend the rest of our lives on the run. It’s a good guarantee, I guess, ”he says.
The median contributions were around 200 euros, although there were some participants who gave more than a million. People who made a transaction with their Ethereum wallet for the first time was approximately slightly less than 20% of the total, although there were a more substantial number of patrons with less than 40 transactions with their wallet, which is considered to be the average user, no expert.
Although the role of memes and coordination on the internet may make one think of the stock exchange against Gamestop in February [cuando un enjambre de pequeños inversores coordinados puso contra las cuerdas a la élite de Wall Street]Piedrafita does not see coincidences: “It is quite different: The narrative here has been mainly ‘we are going to achieve this together and show the world that we can’, there has been no ‘hatred’ of the system, nor expectations of wealth,” he explains.
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