Easter Morning Thoughts About Crowdfunding & Occupy Wall Street

One thing that has disappointed me in recent months has been how the Occupy Wall Street movement, at least as reflected by activists I had followed on Twitter since the occupation of Zuccotti Park last fall, has been distracted by its skirmishes with the NYPD.

No doubt if you are provoked by, and provoking, the police day-to-day, it's natural for those skirmishes to preoccupy your thoughts and distract you from your purpose. But it began to feel to me - from afar, I know - that sparring with police had actually become the movement's purpose.

Lincoln MemorialMeantime, and without using either the tactics or terminology of #OWS, crowdfunding advocates took up the cause of directly confronting Wall Street, by pushing Congress to do something to permit the 99% to participate in private investing.

There is a quintessentially can-do and self-reliant resonance to crowdfunding - you can feel it by spending 10 minutes clicking around Kickstarter (which of course does not do equity crowdfunding, but the energy is there) - that was also a feature of the #OWS movement last fall. With lenders not lending, with access to VCs too difficult and angels sometimes too remote, crowdfunding advocates said, look, let small, local businesses - and startups with ambitions, too - appeal to the public for seed money.

About four months ago, around Thanksgiving, I wrote an imagined speech that President Obama might give to the nation, calling on us to learn from OWS and take steps to fulfill the promise of our democracy in a more direct way. The President did not give such a speech of course. My friend, the US history professor and savvy political decoder Mark Byrnes, told me the President would never get re-elected if he gave such a speech.

But I was there in the White House Rose Garden last Thursday when the President used a phrase with Lincolnian overtones to describe the "big, new pool of potential investors" that the crowdfunding portion of the JOBS Act might usher into the innovation economy. He called this new pool of investors, "the American people."

I've been disappointed by how the McHenry crowdfunding bill, fresh and free of cynicism, was dropped in favor of the Merkley/Brown bill, which went way too far toward putting the crowdfunding paradigm into reactionary frameworks that are second nature to securities regulators and securities lawyers.

But I'm wising up as I continue to see crowdfunding advocates, day by day, working to figure out what to do next. Unlike the VCs, who got their IPO on-ramp, and unlike the angel investors (in the Rose Garden Thursday, the President called them "wealthy individuals"), who got reforms to bring angel investing into the socially networked era, the crowdfunders are not part of the 1%. In spite of that, they got something - imperfect, but something not on the agenda of the 1% - done in Washington DC.

Perhaps without wanting it, maybe the crowdfunders carry the mantle of #OWS now.


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