The VICE Channels

    How Dogecoin Occupied Wall Street

    Written by

    Daniel Stuckey and Alex Pasternack

    At about 9:30pm on Friday in Lower Manhattan, a group of more than a hundred people marched out of the new Bitcoin Center at 40 Broad Street, and into the streets. "To the moon! To the moon! To the moon!" Donning Shiba Inu-branded flair, t-shirts, paper masks—and joined by three live Shiba Inus—the all-ages group, fully sugared up, paraded through the streets of New York’s Financial District to its famous bull sculpture at Bowling Green, where they planned to take it over, doge style.

    "Dogecoin is a celebration of doge and dogecoin and the joy of life," said Ben Doernberg, the organizer of the evening's proceedings, who bravely unzipped his doge hoodie to reveal a large doge on his T-shirt. "What better way to turn something so serious into the cutest most fun thing in the world? Which is a doge." 

    Suddenly, a city bus screeched to a halt near the crowd. The driver shoved open his window and shouted out, "Is this Occupy Wall Street?" A dump truck behind him waited. 

    "We're giving out free money!" an artist named Groucho Fractal shouted back. "Do you know about Dogecoin? It's like Bitcoin"--at this point the bus driver nodded--"except people are using it!" 

    It wasn't immediately clear if he was being ironic, in playful doge fashion. The driver, whose bus appeared empty, nodded vigorously and smiled and thrust his thumb out the window. "Support TWU local 100! Support the transit workers!"

    Marching through freezing temperatures, the first event of its type for a burgeoning digital currency movement was in full swing: The New York City Dogecoin Community's first 'Dogeparty.'

    The alternative digital currency—based on Shiba Inu photos that became memes distinguished by a use of grammatically absurd broken phrases in rainbow comic sans—is having a moment. After enough of the doge-based currency was recently put together to send the Jamaican Bobsled Team to Sochi’s Winter Games, the altcoin more and more is becoming one to be reckoned with.

    A jamboree of sorts, the night was themed ‘Doges In Space,’ hence the slogan “To the moon!” and these two gentlemen who were standing outside the Bitcoin Center when we arrived, wearing NASA flightsuits with QR codes on their chests referring to their dogecoin wallets:

    Upon entry, about two hundred attendees took refreshments and perused the space, vendors’ tables where used computer parts, sodas, mining rigs and doge style flair and clothing were sold for cash and dogecoins. Participants took to the stage for costume and dance contests, a game of musical chairs, and some heated auctions for a balloon sculpture of a Shiba Inu, a rocket ship piñata (with a Shiba Inu as its pilot), and a giant mask of a doge.

    Organizers repeatedly made it rain doge, by tossing strips of paper (with wallet codes printed on them for users to receive dogecoins) from the stage as Baha Men blared over the P.A. 

    A group of boys in their early teens, some of whom were handing out free cans of soda, eagerly cleaned them off the floor. Unlike most event we've attended for virtual currencies, the atmosphere was exuberant, warm, and inspiringly youthful.

    From one angle, with its forceful glee and internet irony, the dogeparty looked like a bizarro version of the movement that had taken over Zuccotti Park years ago. 

    Dogs, mostly Shiba Inus, also attended the dogeparty, some of them brought by the newly-minted doge lovers of the volunteer group NYC Shiba Rescue. It was a sign of the altcoin’s allure and exposure into other interests, recruiting a new breed of virtual currency enthusiasts that fall outside the realm of computer hackers and opportunistic entrepreneurs.

    There were political echoes too. A number of founding members of Occupy Wall Street showed up, and a handful of people in backpacks toted Guy Fawkes masks. From one angle, with its forceful glee and internet irony, the dogeparty looked like a bizarro version of the movement that had taken over Zuccotti Park years ago. 

    "All these people are marching on Wall Street because they don't care," one Occupy veteran reported to his livestreaming phone camera during the march to the Bull. "And why? Because they all got rich on bitcoin, and the government can't do anything to stop it! Dogecoin, I mean!" 

    Slapstick and hipster irony converge in the doge shtick. Dogecoin takes the most interesting and sometimes paradoxical aspects of Bitcoin—the decentralized network, the media hype, the political spirit, the cultishness, the calls for wealth redistribution, the financial speculation—to its absurd conclusion. 

    "When you tell someone about Bitcoin, you have to talk to them into it," Doernberg explained. "You have to explain to them margins and lack of chargebacks. When you tell someone they can take a currency that's a dog, they're breaking down your door to find how they can take it." 

    Dogecoin and Bitcoin are based on similar technology, he said, "but money's a social convention. And I like the social conventions of Dogecoin a lot better. I like Bitcoin, but I'm on Team Dogecoin." 

    There is a heavy emphasis on "team." The dogecoin subreddit has gained over 57,000 subscribers (a steady gain on r/bitcoin’s membership), where the comment board teems with relaxed personalities, outreach, dog obituaries, people getting help paying their pets’ chemo bills, and lessons on how to draw doges.

    "I've never seen a community on the internet that's nicer and more supportive," said Doernberg. "People love the subreddit--they go on when their pet dies and when they're having trouble with drug addiction or just to share a funny photo."

    "The motto of dogecoin is 'to the moon,'" he said. "And everyone has their own moon. Maybe they just want to pay off their college loan. It's a new way of looking at money, where it's about what it can accomplish for you emotionally instead of in terms of the objects you can get, and I think that's a better way of living. It makes you happy." 

    Despite crypto skeptics and bitcoin purists who turn their noses at a growing roster of alternative cryptocurrencies, Dogecoin is responsible for an expansion of vocabulary for virtual currencies, and their untapped cultural capacities. Making bitcoin look, feel, and operate like real money has been the mundane objective of bitcoin evangelists and entrepreneurs, especially as regulators puzzle over how to police it, and as one bitcoin hero awaits a money laundering trial.

    But could a party, a sense of generosity and sheer fun, and an invitational spirit to hybridize with other communities be an itch bitcoin has left unscratched?

    The Guardian's financial pages yesterday featured a mysterious advertistment for dogecoin, and a Danish newspaper printed a dogecoin above an article about the altcoin with the headline, "Dogecoin forging ahead." The Times' original curtain-raiser piece on bitcoin, with mention of prominent backers like the Winkelvoss twins, is by now ancient history.

    As the crowd surrounded the Charging Bull, someone asked a tour guide in attendance, Mike Pellagatti, to tell the history of the hulking sculpture. It was designed by Arturo Di Modica, a SoHo artist who, in an act of "guerrilla art", trucked it to Wall Street on December 15, 1989, as a Christmas gift to the people of New York. "It was an act of vandalism!" he shouted.

    The crowd cheered and suddenly moved in on the bull, draping over its head a giant handcrafted doge head. A chant of "doge! doge! doge!" rose up. A pair of police officers appeared and began reminding people not to climb over the barricades, but instead to walk around them. 

    "Have you heard of dogecoin?" Doernberg asked the officers, who glanced at each other and back at him and shook their heads no. He explained it, waited a beat, and then said he wanted to make sure that the police had no problem with dogecoin's temporary occupation of Wall Street. 

    "I mean, you've got to admit," he quipped. "This"—nodding at the new Wall Street Doge—"is an improvement."

    "We decided that the bull has had a pretty long run, some good things, some bad things, depending on how you look at it," said Doernberg. "But either way there's no way it's as cute as the Shiba Inu."

    Photographs by Dan Stuckey