ConstitutionDAO Was Born Fast and Grew Up Faster
In under a week this Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) managed to mobilize and inspire thousands of internet citizens like myself. They used Web3 technologies to open the door for democratized digital marathons taking aim at big, bold prizes. And while I’ve been optimistic about Web3 for a while, this real-world case study sealed the deal.
If anybody asks, this is how I’ll tell them it went down.
How it Started
In mid-November 2021, what began as a semi-serious possibility turned into a reality, then into a social media moment, and finally into an internet movement.
The mission seemed impossible: Raise millions of dollars from interested internet citizens to buy a rare printed copy of the U.S. Constitution.
The call to arms spread like wildfire across Twitter — internet patriots flocked to the Discord server in droves. The meme machines fired up, big web3 players got involved, and the heat was on.
Timeframe: Less than one week.
ConstitutionDAO Twitter Followers by Auction: 30,000+
ConstitutionDAO Discord Members by Auction: 19,000+
Constitution DAO Final Contributor Tally: 17,437
Average Contribution Size: $206.00
Amount Raised: $45M+
Sotheby’s Starting Bid: $10M
Fundraising, and Fast
On the fundraising platform Juicebox, contributors posted notes of inspiration and even personal stories that were both inspiring and moving.
You might think this was a crypto-nerd exclusive event, but you’d be wrong.
On-chain data proved that a significant portion of contributors had never used crypto before, but their belief in the cause was motivation enough to jump through all the required hoops — set up exchange accounts, install hot wallets on their browser, and pay gas (transaction) fees in exchange for the $PEOPLE governance token.
The $PEOPLE token they received in exchange for their donation simply guaranteed voting rights in Constitution DAO. This wasn’t a financial investment, all contributions were a vote to secure this copy of the Constitution in the name of We, the People.
Some people chipped in a few ETH, some sent in a lot. Many posted encouraging battle cries, personal stories and memorial dedications, and moving sentiments like this:
Want more inspiration like this? Grab a tissue and head over to the the full comment compilation at “ConstitutionDAO’s Contributor Comments Prove We Might Win at Humanity After All.”
Buy History, Make History
On Thursday, November 18th, as the auction approached, the energy was palpable. Tweets and re-tweets of “#WAGBTC” (“We’re All Gonna Buy The Constitution”) that had started within crypto-enthusiast circles were rolling out across the Twitterverse like writhing, urgent octopus tentacles. On Discord, the #general group chat was moving at speeds which were hardly legible – the stream of excited GIFs, emojis and Nicolas Cage memes flashed in a colorful scrolling medley.
On the day of the auction, the ConstitutionDAO.com website proudly displayed the following banner:
Thousands of people, your humble author included, tuned in to the Sotheby’s YouTube livestream to watch a fine art auction for the first time ever. The live chat was bristling with crypto-native lingo: “gm” (“good morning”), paper scroll emojis, “wen Constitution?” queries, and cries of “Let’s goooo!”
After about an hour of contemporary art auctions, the big ticket item — our prized Constitution copy — was coming up next. Sotheby’s shared the following details about this rare print:
- While 500 copies were printed, only 13 copies remained, and of these only two in private ownership.
- It is estimated to have been printed on September 16, 1787.
- This copy would have been hand-set and printed.
- It includes four pages of the Constitution, about a page of a roster of the people who voted for the Constitution, and a letter from George Washington sending it to the Continental Congress which in turn he sent to the states.
- This copy was being sold by the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation.
- The last time a printed copy was auctioned was 30 years ago.
This auction was clearly the event headliner — it was auctioneered by a Sotheby’s Senior Vice President.
Nearly as soon as the bidding started at $10M, a bidding representative named Brooke put in an offer of $30M as if to declare “My client is going to put all this lowballing nonsense aside and cut to the chase.” Members in the ConstitutionDAO group chat were wondering: is Brooke our rep? And when it came down to the final bidding war between Brooke and a representative named David… the drawn-out counterbids had each of us on the edge of our seats. Not the least of which was because we didn’t know who was representing ConstitutionDAO.
The Euphoria, The Crash, and The Aftermath
At the closing hammer with a winning bid of $41M, the ConstitutionDAO Discord chat erupted in cheers, congratulatory GIF’s, emojis, and a lifetime’s worth of exclamation points. While there was no official announcement yet, I surmise the excitement was because:
- We had raised over $46M to win this, SURELY our DAO submitted the winning offer.
- Brooke looked a bit misty-eyed, SURELY from being moved by the triumph of over 17,000 internet strangers.
- Nobody would intentionally shatter the dreams of We, the People… SURELY Brooke was ConstitutionDAO’s representative.
Cue movie sound effect: *record scratch*
Except somebody did intentionally shatter those dreams, and the heartbreaking news was Brooke was not our rep.
The disappointment was big, ugly, and real. We learned that due to auction costs, steward and insurance costs, our bid limit was $40M. But even in the wake of being outbid, the accomplishment and camaraderie was enough to get an average human at least mildly choked up.
Despite the soul-crushing blow of finding out we were outbid, the community was largely supportive.
The core team of stewards and coordinators had pulled off a monumental feat, and thousands of people showed up to pitch in — whether by ETH, by tweet, or by meme. If anything was lacking, it wasn’t spirit.
Now Here’s Where it Gets Biblical
On “the morning after,” when the sleep-deprived core team was likely making their 87th cup of coffee that week, the internet began to stir. Twitter was a-twitter with links, and the Discord crew were firing off articles reporting the disappointing news.
Ken Griffin, CEO of hedge fund Citadel (which you may remember from this year’s earlier Reddit Wall Street Bets and Robinhood dramas), had outbid ConstitutionDAO. Estimated at a net worth of $16-21B, Ken Griffin shared his plans to have the document on display at the Waltons (of Walmart fame) Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas.
*Deep breath in* …and *exhale.*
If you had tasked anyone to imagine a more poetic, archetypal (mythical, even!) David and Goliath story to represent the generational and class divides our our time…
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better story than this.
In disbelief and indignation, on Twitter and on Discord, We the People absolutely UNLEASHED. To borrow from the crypto-native lexicon, the “apes” went bananas.
It’s easy to understand why because let’s face it, the optics weren’t great.
In a fitting display of wealth, Ken casually upped his million-dollar bids because he could. And all the touching stories of immigrants and students and modest-means patriots who pooled their $200’s worth of ether simply didn’t factor into that equation.
The DAOists were miles from zen…they were furious. Some were possibly still harboring resentment from Citadel’s involvement in the Wall Street Bets / Robinhood debacle and now this.
“Wait a minute, I thought David was supposed to win in the David & Goliath story!”
Take heart fellow patriots, because all is not lost.
The End of the Beginning
The “lively” (a conservative term) ConstitutionDAO Discord group has made their voices heard. While some are looking to get their contributions refunded (which the core team committed to having as an option in case of being outbid), many are still high on the energy of how much was accomplished so quickly, and want to channel that energy into positive change.
Coordinating thousands of internet strangers at scale isn’t perfect, but this was a perfect experiment, chock-full of learning experiences.
Indeed I’d count the following as BIG WINS:
- “DAO” is at its highest search term ranking on Google trends.
- “What are those crypto nerds going to try to buy next?” is an excellent question to ponder.
- The core team was able to create brand materials, FAQ’s, legal provisions, and working groups is record time. All through the power of purpose and cooperation.
- ConstitutionDAO has the distinct honor of placing the first DAO bid at a Sotheby’s auction.
- Over 17,000 people were able to donate to a cause they believed in without the friction of banks, gatekeepers, or inefficient intermediaries.
- We now have an exemplary case-study in the type of future that web3 makes possible.
- About 50 people are listed on the official website as core contributors, spanning many countries and assisting with legal, marketing, programming/development, PR, and community coordination & moderation.
- Thousands of people baring their soul and raising the battle call in their comments.
The feat is heroic in its own right, and when you consider all this happened in less than a week, well… MIND = BLOWN.
And thanks for putting “DAO” on the map, btw:
The DAO Winds Down, but the People Don’t
The core team set a bold intention, accomplished its mission, and sadly decided that to take on another imperative was not something that the core team could accommodate. I can’t say I blame them — assembly at scale is an enormous task. Here is a parting thought from their Twitter account:
We didn’t get the Constitution, but we made history nonetheless.
We broke records for the largest crowdfund for a physical object and most money crowdfunded in 72h, which will of course be refunded to everyone who participated.
To all our 17,437 contributors, THANK YOU ❤️
— ConstitutionDAO (📜, 📜) (@ConstitutionDAO) November 19, 2021
But one thing has been proven…when the right idea comes along, Web3 allows people to mobilize quickly and effectively, and you haven’t heard the last from the People.
No ser*, you have not.
*another crypto-native greeting.