While we’ve been writing the People of Bitcoin column for a couple of years now and profiled people from all walks of life, John Bush and Cat Bleish certainly take the award for “most well-rounded.” Or should we say, if there was an annual yearbook for Bitcoin enthusiasts, they definitely would be voted “Most Likely to Diversify.”
They just have an insatiable curiosity, infectious drive for their many causes, and absolute dedication to decentralization. Did we mention they’re married? So one-half of this busy match made in heaven (Cat) sat down with us to chat about living on bitcoin alone, life on the road, and where the family is headed next. Buckle up! It’s a fascinating journey.
Hi, Cat! Can you share a bit about your personal stories and how you both came to Bitcoin?
I learned about Bitcoin at the Porcupine Freedom Festival in New Hampshire in 2010. I didn’t quite understand what it was, but I definitely noticed a buzz among some circles there. We worked vendor booths at PorcFest for Brave New Books every summer, and in 2011 I decided wanted to accept bitcoin. We already accepted silver and gold and barter, so I thought this would be a fun expansion. I could not for the life of me figure out how to accept bitcoin and John was just “too busy” to help, so I bartered a whole chicken with a friend to make sure I was set up to take it via a computer-based wallet. Bitcoin was worth $3 that summer. By next summer, it was worth $12 and John was fully on board. The next summer, it was worth $125 and we sold all we had to pay for our wedding! It was around that time that John started his podcast, SovereignBTC.com, and we began to really shift our lives to become more bitcoin-centric. In 2013 we did a no-FRN (No Federal Reserve Notes) challenge at PorcFest, and we spent bitcoin, and silver and barter only. When we decided to try a bitcoin-only challenge in 2014, the then-editor of Bitcoin Magazine suggested we try a bitcoin-only trip in its entirety. So we did! That was the first of four so far and, honestly, the most difficult. At this point we now live full time in the Bitcoin.com Bus and have dedicated our lives to teaching people about decentralized lifestyle options! We love Bitcoin!
Some of our profile subjects have been tech geeks and others have been radio or YouTube personalities. We’ve profiled a philanthropist and a college student. It’s been a pretty diverse group. But I’m not sure we’ve ever covered a pair of activists, and I know we haven’t interviewed a married couple before. Can you speak a bit about your activism and how it informs your Bitcoin journey?
John was a 9/11 truth activist and I was an anti-war activist before we both found Ron Paul in 2007. We were both introduced to the concepts of “sound money” by Dr. Paul and got really into silver and barter. We were both speakers at “End the Fed” rallies in different cities (referring to the Federal Reserve Bank) and we met at an event in Chicago in 2009 (he is from Texas, I am from Missouri). It was love at first sight (literally), and by December 2009 I had moved to Texas where we became this unstoppable activist couple. We were all over Austin City Council (the state legislature) traveling, giving speeches, and starting businesses. By the time Bitcoin really entered our awareness in 2011 we were both ready for a form of money that not only took the power back from corrupt government institutions, but also functioned faster than a physical silver trade. It was the perfect solution for our scrappy little activist/entrepreneur lifestyle!
Would you like to share a bit about your bookstore and what inspired you to open a community space? Is the fact that you call it Brave New Books significant?
We are in the process of buying Brave New Books from the previous owner. It was the first place I worked when I moved to Texas to be with John, and he took my position when I was two weeks away from our due date with our oldest daughter in 2011. We worked vendor booths for Brave at events all across the country, so the store held a very near and dear place in our hearts. It was basically the Ron Paul HQ in Austin and has always provided a safe place for people to come and ask questions and share ideas about what is happening in our society. It was truly a home away from home for me when I first arrived in Texas, and has remained so for my seven years here!
When the previous owner was ready to sell, we were the only natural fit. The space is very unique – we sell books, sure, but we are so much more than a bookstore. Most of our actual revenue comes from natural health products, and we have a growing Bitcoin/cryptocurrency community at the store. We host weekly events that range from an “Underground Church” called Freedom Fellowship, to a Decentralized Technology meetup, to yoga classes, and even a weekly traffic law seminar! We host best-selling authors for book signings, hold discussions on controversial topics, and facilitate meetings to help people organize in spite of the growing unrest in our society. It is a very special place, and we brought a more family-friendly flair to the store when we took over. We love welcoming children at all events and we have worked to make the store quirkier than ever – in line with the whole “Keep Austin Weird” meme.
Both of you have been involved in the BTC movement from the beginning. Can you talk a little bit about how it’s changed and perhaps (if it’s relevant) how your own relationship to BTC and cryptocurrency has changed?
Honestly, it has changed a lot. At first the only place we could find to spend bitcoin was at the Porcupine Freedom Festival in New Hampshire. We would buy food from vendors, and I bought an amazing knitted owl-shaped hat for my daughter and myself. Then Brave New Books was the first place we could spend it in Austin, so we got our health supplements, etc., with bitcoin. By 2014 we decided to try our first Bitcoin-only tour, so that was really the first year we felt comfortable spending outside of our normal stomping grounds. The ecosystem had grown enough that it was actually possible. Possible, but not easy. We had many issues on that trip, which were exhausting and sometimes frustrating. Places that were listed as bitcoin accepting had NO CLUE how to take our payment repeatedly on that first trip. We would be stuck waiting as a cashier or waiter called the business owner to get the step-by-step how-to.
But, because we went on that trip we were introduced to some of our most favorite Bitcoin companies (like CheapAir and Airbitz) and we really learned the ropes of a Bitcoin-only lifestyle. Now the ecosystem has evolved even more. Compared to our 2014 trips there are fewer restaurants in some areas that accept bitcoin, which made us sad on this 2016 trip. Maybe its because they had frustrating experiences like the ones I mentioned above. Another change from 2014 to now is that Bitcoin transactions often take longer, which required more pre-planning than our late 2014 and our 2015 Bitcoin-only trips. We used to wait until we got our total at the register at Whole Foods then buy a Gyft gift card right then – now if we were to try that we would hold the line up for 10–30 minutes! Now we buy the Gyft cards first, and then shop within that budget. Also, now there are luxuries like Bitcoin debit cards that allow you to buy gasoline without having to find a proxy to buy a gasoline gift card for you.
I would say by now that actually living off bitcoin is not only possible, but also easy. We definitely were part of the learning curve, though!
We know you’re also active in the non-schooling and homesteading movements. Is there much interest in cryptocurrency in these audiences, and if so why do you think so?
Yes we are huge fans of “unschooling,” or child-led learning! We have been giving talks about Bitcoin at the nation’s premiere unschooling conference (Rethinking Everything) since 2013, and this year would be the first that there seemed to be a widespread interest. So much so that they finally let us pay in bitcoin! There was definitely interest in years past, but this year something seemed to really “click” with this community.
There is great overlap between Bitcoin and unschooling. One is peer-to-peer money, the other peer-to-peer education. Both involve the concepts of decentralization. I wrote an article about this for Bitcoin Magazine a few years back.
I think unschoolers are becoming more interested in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies for several reasons. Many of the unschooled children are technologically savvy, so they are just finding the cryptoworld on their own and introducing their parents. Also, our society has taken a turn toward financial and social unrest; Bitcoin is a natural solution as people are trying to figure out how to take ownership of their own finances.
There is definitely interest in unschooling from within the Bitcoin community. Many Bitcoin “big names” homeschool or unschool their kids already, because they truly believe in the philosophy of decentralized lifestyles. This year we were able to introduce the concept of tiny home living to both unschoolers and Bitcoiners, which was fun!
As for homesteading, I honestly think we were more active in reaching out to the farmer’s markets when we were pushing silver and barter. By the time we got into Bitcoin we were less active in-person with homesteaders. This interview has called me to get back to my farmer’s market roots and see what we can do to get some vendors taking bitcoin and DASH!
This is going to be a multiple-part question. We know that you’ve taken a grass-roots approach to spreading the word and have been on a number of road trips (with your family in tow) to promote Bitcoin across the country and evangelize for its adoption. Number one, when you come across the un-initiated, do you find people particularly positive on the idea? What sort of resistance have you found (if any)? Do you have any good “road stories” in this vein?
Traveling in the bus was a totally different experience than in the van. In the van, we had to actually tell people what we were doing, so we mostly talked to merchants or people at conferences that were already Bitcoiners. In the bus we are a driving advertisement for Bitcoin, so everywhere we go we are approached. Generally people are very excited. We get thumbs up and honks and people rushing to greet us when we pull into gas stations. I think the biggest “negative” response we have received is people thinking “Bitcoin is dead,” because of the Mt. Gox scandal a few years back. I simply explain to them that in Bitcoin no one is too big to fail, which is actually better for the Bitcoin economy because it encourages accountability, whereas in the mainstream banking industry corruption is propped up and rewarded financially.
On this most recent trip it was very rare that a person would have no clue what Bitcoin is. Lots of people want to tell their Bitcoin stories to us when they see the bus, which is fun but also exhausting when you are trying to get somewhere. I think I have a greater patience for the long conversations than John, who will be waving at me from the driver seat like “Let’s go!” He is also the one to physically drive the bus, which takes a toll. It’s huge! One fun story was when we were parked in the parking lot of Ocean Beach dog beach – we had just come back to rest after playing in the sand, and I could hear every conversation as people walked by. “Bitcoin, I’ve heard of that,” “Bitcoin! My brother is into that,” “What’s Bitcoin” – “Bitcoin is a digital money,” “Oh wow, Bitcoin! That’s amazing.” I was able to be a fly on the wall and just listen to the conversations the bus generated. That’s when I knew the bus was really making an impact.
Number two, since you’ve been out there “boots on the ground,” so to speak, do you find commonalities in BTC adopters in the various regions of the States or is it a pretty diverse group?
Great question. I will say this much: We have found that bitcoin is most widely adopted in quirky cities. For example, San Diego has a huge Bitcoin economy, while Los Angeles does not. Las Vegas and Denver have a decent amount of Bitcoin places as well, but honestly they both had less on this 2016 trip than they did in 2014. There are usually some amazing local restaurants, at least one vape shop, and a variety of small businesses. It’s pretty diverse in each city, but it seems only cities with a thriving Bitcoin meetup actually have a thriving Bitcoin economy. For example, Kansas City (my hometown) is similar to Austin in a lot of ways, but has nothing happening in terms of Bitcoin. Austin has a huge and diverse Bitcoin community, and a huge and diverse Bitcoin ecosystem. I think the success of the meetup and the success of the economy go hand in hand. It really takes face-to-face contact, personal relationships, and spending your bitcoin for local businesses to become interested and stay interested.
We always ask this next question because (as you know) sometimes perspective and perception can be varied. What do you see as the challenges for BTC in the future?
Yes, if the blocksize issues are not dealt with, the transaction times will continue to increase. Roger Ver of Bitcoin.com has some really great thoughts on this. Until they deal with it, they are opening the market to other currencies like DASH (DASH.org) that are faster, more secure, and are simply run more efficiently. I think the “competition” is good; it will force Bitcoin to evolve or simply become one of many. And there is room for many! Think about the various credit card processing companies out there – most places accept the top contending card processors (Visa, MasterCard, American Express), and I think most places that accept crypto will start with bitcoin then add coins like DASH. The coins that fail will fall by the wayside and the top contenders will show themselves through the market over time (and I really think it’s between Bitcoin and DASH right now).
Cryptocurrencies are the way of the future. I know for a FACT that the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank discusses Bitcoin at every meeting. The transaction times may take 10–30 minutes to confirm with bitcoin (listen to me complain), but think about how fast that is compared to banks who take days to confirm a transaction! Credit cards take days to deposit! It so annoying for our bookstore to wait days and days to have access to funds for product that was removed from our store days prior. On months where cash flow is tight, we literally have to wait for the money to deposit before we can reorder the product. That’s absurd in this digital age! The dinosaur banks have a lot of room for growth, and Bitcoin is the standard they will be using to incorporate cryptocurrencies into their internal banking systems.
Are there any companies in the space doing things that you believe to be particularly exciting?
We love it that Bitcoin.com has taken such a strong stance on the blocksize debate. We love DASH.org and feel it is a cryptocurrency worth accepting if you are a business and worth playing with if you are a Bitcoiner. I am very excited about Steemit.com – a competitor to Facebook that developed their own cryptocurrency that allows you to literally “pay” others with your upvote or like. We love it that ShapeShift.io is always adding new currencies and allow you to convert your money quickly with ease to whatever cryptocurrency you choose without having to make an account (yay for privacy!). We love it that bitmain tech is still providing reliable Bitcoin miners when most other mining companies turned out to be producing total junk. We still love Airbitz.co both as a wallet and as a Bitcoin directory. We love all our sponsors, but they are not all “in the space.” Some just accept bitcoin, but I have to mention my dear friend Nova-Om.com who just started accepting bitcoin. She does “soul alignment” work, which is something I think a lot of our tech-heavy Bitcoin community can use. So I am excited to see how she grows into the space with us.
What’s next for Jon and Cat? Do you have new ventures you can share with our readers?
We are working to make our bookstore self-sufficient so we can travel full time. We hope to take the bus to Anarchapulco in February (in Acapulco, Mexico) and are discussing the logistics of a non-U.S. tour. We would love to hit all 48 mainland states in 2017/2018 and really do it right. Our family is happiest on the road. We just THRIVE in a position of Bitcoin advocacy, and we hope to transition to it full time as we give the bookstore its wings! We hope to launch a crypto-token for the bookstore in the next year or so, and would love to hear from anyone who wants to help with such an endeavor!