Less than 24 hours after the Roe v. Wade draft opinion leaked, Molly Dickson was on her laptop, making an impassioned case for the transformative power of cowgirl images.
“You can donate today or any time to your local organization,” the artist told two dozen people in a virtual forum on Twitter as she described a plan to sell several million dollars’ worth of digital art. “What we’re focused on really is the magic of Web 3,” referring to the loose agglomeration of people who say concepts like cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse are the future of American public life.
Dickson, 38, is intent on making sure abortion rights groups remain strong even if the Supreme Court overturns the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. So she and a few partners are forming Cowgirl DAO, a new decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) that comes together quickly online and employs a proportional voting structure based on buy-ins. One of the most famous DAOs rustled up many people for a $47 million bid to buy the U.S. Constitution last year; it failed but sent an unexpected message of the system’s financial power.
Cowgirl DAO will sell digital art of cowgirls to fund abortion rights groups, and organizers had quickly put together the Twitter meeting to talk about it.
Forget handing out fliers downtown; that’s so 1995. Don’t even mention Kickstarter; you might as well try to teleport back to 2015. Instead, it is DAOs and NFTs, Dickson and her partners say, that could truly move the needle. Web 3 seeks to exploit the speed and slickness of new digital tools to raise cash for causes they say wouldn’t otherwise see it, even as skeptics might ask if it’s all just traditional fundraising with fancier computer code.
Dickson is a photographer, animator and video artist working at her home studio in Dallas’s Cedars district; her sensibility is a kind of pop art laced with subtle social commentary. This winter, she found herself angered by the Texas abortion law that bans abortions where a fetal heartbeat is present and has had its path smoothed by the Supreme Court. So she created “Computer Cowgirls,” a 201-piece set of NFT art to negate its power. The kitschily dressed cowgirls moved with an empowerment swagger, subverting farmhand and cheerleader cliches.
They resonated. Over a very short time in February, Dickson sold out, raising $30,000 in the ethereum cryptocurrency, or ETH. She paid a firm to convert the crypto to dollars and sent them to Fund Texas Choice, an Austin nonprofit that finances transportation for women seeking abortions.
Now the goals are more ambitious.
“We just jumped into action as soon as the news hit yesterday to say what can we do to support the organizations that are IRL working to fight this,” Audrey Taylor-Akwenye, a coding specialist who works with Dickson and goes by the handle @0xoddrey, said to the group, using an acronym for “in real life.” “What we’ve come up with is that we’re going to do a 10K NFT drop.”
She described a set of 10,000 pieces of a new cowgirl design from Dickson that would, hopefully, rake in $3 million. Pieces would be offered at one of three price points — $80, $240 and $2,400, according to current values. The DAO would then decide who gets the funds. They set the sale for next week.
“There was urgency before,” Dickson said. “But there’s increased urgency now.”
“We just need to identify the organizations that are doing the work,” added Madison Page, an online fitness entrepreneur in Los Angeles who has been guiding Dickson’s strategy. “And then encouraging or figuring out ways for them to accept crypto as a payment. If anybody has ideas on that, feel free to raise your proverbial hand,” she said. “Please reach out on the Discord.” Much of Web 3 is getting on one platform to talk about talking on another platform.
The group admits that convincing traditional clinics and charities to accept crypto won’t be simple. Page has suggested “computer cowgirl parties,” in which people can set up wallets and be “onboarded.”
“I really think the barrier is more psychological than practical,” she said.
The model for this is UkraineDAO. Led by activist Alona Shevchenko and Pussy Riot co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova, it raised more than $6 million after the Russian invasion by selling simple NFTs of the Ukrainian flag. In Web 3′s compressed timelines, it’s already become a kind of historic marker, even though it just happened in March.
As a speaker icon fluctuated with their voices, the Twitter Space participants noted how tech tools could be deployed for social causes, everyday people turning into overnight nonprofit executives.
“I’m just literally going through the collections and learning about you,” user Steph Guerrero said. “But I know if we’re organized we can do amazing things.”
A woman who goes by the handle @SisterJennTX chimed in. “My question for you guys is how are your needs going to be organized so that those of us newest to Web 3 can help? Web 3 moves at Mach speed. The rest of the world’s a little bit slower.”
“We have a lot of Web 2 needs in some ways,” Dickson assured, “people that have nonprofit experience. On the flip side, we want Web 3 help — people that already have DAOs and want to mentor.”
The conversation circled to what would happen if charities couldn’t be “onboarded” — should a third party be paid to convert crypto to U.S. dollars? Or a more willing charity be found?
The uninitiated might ask why all this techno-wizardry is needed when simple fundraising donations have worked well for decades. Isn’t all this just souped-up T-shirt sales?
But say that to a Web 3 advocate and they’ll look at you as if you just read the Magna Carta in Swahili. They note the NFT approach is not just faster — it collectible-izes and gamifies donations to make them more attractive. (Pieces are bought and resold as values fluctuate.)
Also, Page said, “there’s an anonymous aspect that lends itself to people feeling safe to donate 2 ETH (about $5,400). But also it’s very traceable, so it brings a level of trust — people know any money they donate is going directly to the cause.” (The blockchain, the code-heavy public ledger where all crypto transactions happen, is indeed a paradoxical beast: Everything is technically visible, but you have to know how to read the blockchain to find it.)
This endeavor is like selling T-shirts the way a tricycle is like a Ducati, Dickson said. “It’s just a whole different way of working. All of a sudden I have assets I never did as a photographer. I could have sold prints until the cows come home and never have raised $30,000 in a few weeks.”
At the meeting, the discussion turned to tapping into people’s Rolodexes. Sister Jenn suggested a shared document of personality contacts. “Like, ‘Does anyone know so-and-so, or who knows Reese Witherspoon’s agent?’ ” she said, citing the NFT-friendly actress.
Another user, @wunksnft, asked about the political process. “So after you guys launch and the DAO is officially formed, making the decisions about who’s getting the money — is that all going to be decided by the DAO?”
“You got it,” Page said.
“My concern would be sometimes a voting mechanism holds up getting the funds into hands,” she said. “I’ve had experience with that.”
Page reassured it would all be out in the open. That, along with other objections, she said, should be gently rebutted.
“Everybody who’s anybody in this space right now,” she said, “put your ETH where your mouth is.”