From women’s suffrage to civil rights, from the growth of unions to the fight to protect the environment, social movements typically grow from the bottom up: Leaders emerge, but in victorious movements, those individuals reflect the views of the people.
That’s why we—dyed-in-the-wool progressives—are confused and distressed over the choice by many of our allies to devalue decentralization in the technology space, and even to portray it as worse than Big Tech alternatives. In recent months, a number of progressive commentators have attacked the very idea of decentralization, arguing that it’s a distraction from other political goals. This has also led to progressives making crypto a favorite target and, bizarrely, taking the positions of big banks, which are notoriously monopolistic.
To us, the more pressing concern is legacy tech platforms—and their ongoing capture of user data. Decentralizing technology will prove crucial in ensuring that the world isn’t run by a handful of unelected technologists.
As progressives, we joined the crypto space not despite our personal history but because of it. Crypto is an exception to so much technology because it runs on blockchain and no single person or corporation can control it. We value a world where power is dispersed to the people, where no one is so powerful that they can dictate terms to the rest of us when it comes to civil rights and civil liberties. That is a decentralized world.
Needless to say, we are far from that utopian vision today. Around the world, inequality has spiked over the last few decades—a trend especially bad here at home. There are many causes, but one is certainly that the power of technological change has accrued to a handful of giant firms. When it emerged 30 years ago, the internet was a wild expanse of opportunity. Now it’s just a small collection of corporate walled gardens, which are difficult—if not impossible—to escape from. We all know people who have sworn to leave a social media network only to return because “everyone else is there” or because their content remains the property of one of these digital feudal lords.
Anti-crypto folks would say this doesn’t matter, that the problems posed by large technology companies and large banks can be solved through political action. And while we support such efforts, there is no reason to think of political action and decentralized technology as oppositional—instead, they are two arms of the same fighter. You need government to knock giant firms down to size, and nascent, decentralized technology to create competition for those giants in a way that doesn’t just produce more giants.
So, we’re perplexed. Why the progressive distaste for decentralization in tech, and the apparent support for behemoths with well-known drawbacks? Maybe it’s because they don’t understand the technology, and, if so, that could be on us—we in the crypto industry may not have done enough to explain it.
Decentralization at its core includes a public, permissionless ledger, one that no single person inherently owns. Blockchain is tracked through a ledger that uses computers globally to ensure that only validated information is added. Think about the websites we use—banks, YouTube, even Reddit—and how a single centralized entity owns all of them and can decide on a whim to change the site’s features, remove users, or use those users’ data in novel ways. Just look at what’s happened to Twitter.
Comparatively, a blockchain allows everyone to own their own data, to control their own information, and to port that information and data to another system at their discretion. It also allows for people to exchange both data and money in a peer-to-peer manner, without permission from expensive, bureaucratic, and—in many cases—unnecessary intermediaries.
Why does this matter? A great example is the rapid response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While the international community faced months of bureaucratic hurdles before it could provide critical support, crypto bridged that gap immediately by identifying wallets that could not be seized or frozen by Russian authorities and delivering, since the invasion began, some $421 million directly to Ukraine for defense, medical aid, and rebuilding.
On the data side, war crimes being committed by Russian militants against Ukrainian civilians are being documented on the blockchain, so tamper-proof evidence will be available at later hearings. Even in peacetime, progressives who engage in potentially dangerous organizing similarly need secure ways to communicate that can’t be compromised by governments or corporations.
As risk-averse banks have cut off operations within entire countries, millions have been excluded from formal financial systems and driven toward shadow banks—or riskier actors. Blockchain-backed crypto offers a transparent way to create fund flows without incurring the hugely expensive intermediary fees that arise when banks deem an area a greater risk. Migrants also use crypto to send money to their home countries, and this activity alone will become increasingly important as political and climate migration continues to accelerate.
We understand that some support for centralization stems from a good-hearted hope that centralized actors can be more easily steered toward the common good. It’s tempting to think that a strong central government could bring about radical change by fiat or that a more concentrated economy enables better central planning. But history tells a different story. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and efforts to drive wayward governments toward the common good without a strong, decentralized movement have resulted in tyranny.
The best path forward requires leaning into decentralization to create a world where no one person or clique is indispensable, where an economy of diverse actors can work together to preserve stability and fairness for all. The way to avoid new tech monopolies is to create an infrastructure that doesn’t allow for them.
Instead of focusing on how the few can bring change to the many, we should be supporting systems that empower the many to effect change. That’s the ideal for which Web3 is striving, and one that we hope other progressives will also look to as a path forward—not a movement to be suppressed by any means necessary.
Sheila Warren is the CEO of the Crypto Council for Innovation, and Justin Slaughter is the policy director at Paradigm. The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.