He Was More Than A Nerdy Kid, He Was A True American Patriot And Innovator.
Steve Dibert, MFI-Miami
Aaron Swartz was more than some nerdy kid from the Chicago suburbs, he was a 21st century American patriot and innovator who cared more for the community around him than he did fame and fortune. Like Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, he wanted everyone to share in his discoveries and innovations when it came to document sharing and when those ideals came under attack he rallied people like Enjolras from Le Miserables to fight back.
Calling Swartz a wunderkind of the Internet age would be an understatement. If Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were the Bach and Beethoven of the digital age, Swartz was Mozart. At age 13, Swartz was a won the ArsDigita Prize, a competition for young people who created “useful, educational, and collaborative” web sites. within 18 months, Swartz was collaborating with experts in networking standards as a member of the working group that authored the RSS 1.0 Specification. By the time Swartz turned 20 he had merged his start-up Infogami with Reddit and made millions within months when Reddit was acquired by CondeNet, the parent company of Wired.
As all that may sound impressive, Swartz was best known for his activism especially when it came to stopping SOPA, the internet censorship bill that died a painful death thanks to Swartz after he put the word out about this bill. Nancy Pelosi and former Senator Christopher Dodd tried to ram SOPA through congress as quickly and quietly as possible and had it not been for Aaron Swartz websites like this would being gone and I would be hanging flyers on doors soliciting business from homeowners.
When Aaron Swartz took his life a few weeks ago, I sat down to write a tribute piece to him and how everyone who blogs or has a website owes Aaron Swartz a debt of gratitude that we can now never repay him thanks to the Inspector Javert of the United States Attorney General’s office, Carmen M. Ortiz. Ortiz insisted on throwing the book at Swartz for a victimless crime in order to get media coverage as a way to open the door for a possible run for Massachusetts Governor next year. Ortiz’s blood thirsty pursuit of Swartz is what finally pushed him over the emotional edge with him ending his life in his Brooklyn apartment.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.” -Family Statement
As I began to write and read what others were writing, I recalled the line from Lawrence of Arabia by General Allenby who annoyingly tells a reporter at Lawrence’s funeral, “You want more words?”
So instead of writing a new piece, I’ve decided instead to share what others have said or written about Aaron Swartz who far more articulate than me and I encourage you to click the link to read the entire piece.
Aaron Swartz was my friend, and I will always miss him. I think it’s important that, as we remember him, we remember that Aaron had a much broader agenda than the information freedom fights for which he had become known. Most people have focused on Aaron’s work as an advocate for more open information systems, because that’s what the Feds went after him for, and because he’s well-understood as a technologist who founded Reddit and invented RSS. But I knew a different side of him. I knew Aaron as a political activist interested in health care, financial corruption, and the drug war (we were working on a project on that just before he died). He was a great technologist, for sure, but when we were working together that was not all I saw.
In 2009, I was working in Rep. Alan Grayson’s office as a policy advisor. We were engaged in fights around the health care bill that eventually became Obamacare, as well as a much narrower but significant fight on auditing the Federal Reserve that eventually became a provision in Dodd-Frank. Aaron came into our office to intern for a few weeks to learn about Congress and how bills were put together. He worked with me on organizing the campaign within the Financial Services Committee to pass the amendment sponsored by Ron Paul and Alan Grayson on transparency at the Fed. He helped with the website NamesOfTheDead.com, a site dedicated to publicizing the 44,000 Americans that die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Aaron learned about Congress by just spending time there, which seems like an obvious thing to do. Many activists prefer to keep their distance from policymakers, because they are afraid of the complexity of the system and believe that it is inherently corrupting. Aaron, as with much of his endeavors, simply let his curiosity, which he saw as synonymous with brilliance, drive him.
Memory to myth: tracing Aaron Swartz through the 21st century
I met Aaron Swartz in Cambridge shortly after he’d been indicted for downloading lots of JSTOR articles on MIT’s network in 2011. My Wired colleague Ryan Singel had been writing about his story, and I’d talked a lot with my friends in academia and publishing about the problems of putting scholarship behind a paywall, but that was really the level at which I was approaching it. I was there to have brunch with friends I’d known a long time only through the internet, and I hadn’t known Aaron that way. I certainly didn’t want to use the brunch to put on my journalist hat and pepper him with questions. He was there primarily to see his partner Quinn Norton’s daughter Ada, with whom he had a special bond. The two of them spent most of their time playing in the bedroom, behind where the rest of us sat, ate, and talked; sometimes you could hear them laughing together from the living room. And that’s mostly how I think of him still: a too-young father figure who occupied an immense role in the lives of people close to me.