Remembering Aaron Swartz

It's been a year since Aaron Swartz killed himself. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Parker Higgins has posted a memorial to him that I found quite moving. I miss Aaron a lot.

I've been feeling pretty hopeless about the future lately, and I think a lot of it has been driven by the impending anniversary of Aaron's death. The last couple years were hard ones.

Aaron had a gift for identifying the problems that mattered, mapping a theory of change, and then taking it on, step by step. That approach allowed him to undertake challenges that many people, most people, would dismiss as impossible. That may be the greatest legacy of the central role he played in the historic SOPA blackout protests: he dreamed a way that an individual could make a small difference, and enough acting together were unstoppable.

It takes a tremendous human spirit to look at the failures of the institutions around us—from the breakdown of governmental checks and balances to its war on whistleblowers to the tremendous corporate influence on crafting anti-user policies—and not despair. Aaron taught us that we must not. He's inspired people to take up big challenges not out of reckless optimism, but because he believed that if we can see the change we want in the world, we are powerful enough to make it happen. From Lawrence Lessig marching across New Hampshire to address corruption in politics, to public interest groups banding together for a day of action against NSA spying, that legacy lives on.

We gave Aaron a Pioneer Award last year and continue to fight in his honor. Join us by demanding a fix to the CFAA and joining our month of action against censorship and surveillance and toward open access.  Because in the end, the way to celebrate Aaron’s life is to come together and continue his work.

Remembering Aaron

Notable Replies

  1. Cory, please try to take the long view. We clearly are in the midst of a second renaissance, and it will be of even wider scope and more inclusive than the first. And the first brought down the medieval church and returned science to the Western world.

    Power is decentralizing all around us and the level of discourse is improving - it's no accident that, incomplete as it was, the Arab Spring happened a scant 20 years (one generation!) after the Web was created. I know that the oligarchs are working hard to centralize power, but this is a race they can't hope to win. The fabric of the Web is intrinsically decentralizing of power.

    You are deep in the thickets of it all, which can be discouraging. But change is happening, and you're an important part of it. I heard you speak in Cambridge (MA) last year and you were brilliant.

    And your grief over Aaron honors him.

    Be well, and take heart -

  2. Leigh says:

    To me, it seems that these issues of creeping copyright tyranny are part of a larger societal problem by which the law becomes less and less the good fences that make good neighbors, and more and more a yoke the powerful place upon the little people. And this goes hand in hand with the problem that the rules (both the formal laws and the informal social boundaries) have become less and less binding the higher one goes up on the social ladder.

    Unless we can address this problem, everything else is a bandaid on a suppurating cancer.

  3. http and https have been corrupted by the commercial forces that are vying for its territory. But anonymized http holds great promise. It's in its infancy or early toddlerhood, but we will find a way to make it mainstream... because we have to.

  4. Thank you, Hillary.

  5. kzulia says:

    Hillary's comment about being "deep in the thickets" can also describe your feelings of grief, loss and guilt following the suicide of someone you love. Especially when it is still so fresh- all of that is combined with a sense of disbelief and unreality -- it truly does seep into how you see and feel about everything else. And you feel that way for a long time- but- eventually it will get easier to carry the truth of it around.

    My son's oldest and closest friend took his own life almost exactly a year before Aaron. He was 1 month away from his 16th birthday. Brilliant,fiercely independent thinker who went where his intellect took him but was so gentle, funny and kind. He, like Aaron, had beautiful brown eyes and a mop of unruly black hair that he was just not interested in combing!

    The first year was very hard - there were 2 more suicides and we felt scared - as if our whole town was falling apart. All I can say is that we all supported each other, the schools, hospital, mental health facilities and experts,houses of worship, friends - in large settings and small. Many of us dreaded the 1st anniversary, as the pain we had just barely learned to carry around would come roaring back. But we got through it together - his mother's house full of friends and love.

    Cory- it's now been 2 years (Jan. 9) and I can look back and see the ups and downs, but mostly going forward and things getting better. A year ago I couldn't have seen this - I was so worried, so sunk into sadness and guilt, feeling so powerless and ineffectual. You've been fighting big, difficult public battles- but you've also suffered the personal loss of a friend- an unrepeatable miracle- to suicide. Your feelings are understandable. If your experience is anything like mine- you will find the worst of it easing over time as you figure out how to live in this "new" world. We leaned on a lot of people, and we tried to find moments of joy to keep us going - music, nature, 3 season marathons of Modern Family, Parks and Rec and Arrested Development.

    I probably haven't said anything that you haven't heard already- but sometimes it helps to be reminded to step back and get a fresh perspective. Thank you for all your good work - take care of yourself.

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