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Why anonymity is key to self-autonomy — And how crypto helps freedom movements win

Why anonymity is key to self-autonomy — And how crypto helps freedom movements win

In the mid-2010s, the Islamic State was rapidly advancing through Iraq and Syria, conquering territory and terrifying residents. However, one group of Kurds in Northern Syria representing the de facto autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, in an area known as Rojava, successfully fought back the Islamic State and captured the attention of the world.

Many people from around the world went to Rojava to fight, but one lesser-known story made ripples in the crypto world: Some volunteers traveled there to help build blockchain and technological literacy and experiment with the potential of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) to serve as a tool for revolutionary change. After all, Rojava promotes decentralization, autonomy and self-empowerment — sound familiar?

On Episode 10 of The Agenda, hosts Ray Salmond and Jonathan DeYoung were joined by Rachel Rose-O’Leary and Kato, who discussed their work volunteering in Rojava and how those experiences inspired and relate to their current work developing DarkFi, an anonymous blockchain protocol.

Rojava’s blockchain and crypto experiment

O’Leary traveled to Rojava in late 2018 after feeling disillusioned with the crypto space and how far it had seemingly strayed from its early cypherpunk roots. “I was convinced at that time that Rojava was a place where the ideals of crypto were being fielded and tested,” she said. O’Leary was inspired by Amir Taaki, an early Bitcoin pioneer who himself traveled to the region to volunteer.

Meanwhile, Kato first discovered crypto while already in Rojava. “I basically got interested in crypto and in privacy technologies because of the actual need of the people,” he shared. “I saw the actual use cases, and a lot of people at that time already around the world started using crypto for practical means, like for sending money around.”

“If you don’t have a working banking system or you don’t have access, which is true for most of the world, it’s much more efficient. And also especially if you’re facing persecution and political oppression. And often, it’s actually the only way that you have.”

O’Leary spent much of her time “volunteering very much with building educational infrastructure, especially in terms of technology” — including introducing people to crypto and blockchain. “It’s a very interesting environment for crypto because of the fact that there are no banks,” she shared. “Also, there is no state. So, cryptocurrency is a…

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