Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the win against SOPA, and instead this week has been crushingly sad. Aaron Swartz was a friend, and we went to his funeral Tuesday.
Aaron was behind so much of the amazing activism you see on the web. He helped Lessig start Creative Commons and helped get Reddit off the ground. With David Segal he founded Demand Progress. He gave us tons of advice and encouragement on Fight for the Future and even swooped in to fix our website at a crucial moment in the first SOPA protest (it was amazing to watch him work).
The tool that delivers your letters to Congress when you take action on our sites? He built that. Probably in a day or two.
It’s fun and comforting to be in awe of him. But all that “boy genius” stuff is not the important part. The thing that distinguished Aaron more than his intelligence was that he was political
. He didn’t use his ability to make apps– he used it to right wrongs. But he didn’t let the deep corruption in his Chomsky books turn him into a helpless cataloguer of the world’s sins and scams. He worked backwards to some steps he thought might–just maybe–make things better. Part of my horror at losing him is how clutch he was to have on our side. He was so powerful, versatile, and independent. If this was chess, they took our queen.
But that’s the one way he can be replaced. Not as a friend. And probably not by any single person on this planet. But by a network of people infected with his brazen courage.
I remember Aaron saying that one of the best things Fight for the Future could do– beyond stopping or even passing any piece of legislation– would be to encourage activists and geeks to think bigger and bolder. In a world where any one of us can build things or say things that mobilize millions, handfuls of people can do so much. So it matters what you think. It matters what your dreams are. And it makes a difference when you step up.
Seriously, this is 2013. Kickstarter exists. Bitcoin exists! Half the planet will soon have the Internet in their pockets, and most of them aren’t very happy with their governments or employers. That’s a lot to work with. So try something! 🙂
In this email, there’s no simple link to an action you can take; it’s on you to make a plan. But once you do, post it to #ForAaron … we’d like to read it.
Aaron had so many friends and allies, and all of them want to make some lasting change in his memory, both to advance the causes he worked for and fix the unjust system that lead to his death. These include:
* Fixing the CFAA, the law used to prosecute Aaron that makes harmless “terms of service” violations felonies
* Requiring open access to *all* research that receives public funding
* Building ever greater archives of open data
* Creating consequences for prosecutors who bring disproportionate cases against the innocent or harmless
We’ll be helping on all of these fronts, personally or as FFTF. As Massachusetts natives, we’ll work to end the political careers of the prosecutors here who targeted Aaron.
Finally, if you do anything right now, learn about depression. Tiffiniy and I agree 100% with Aaron’s family and closest friends that the actions of federal prosecutors and MIT were what killed him. But there’s more to it than that, and we can’t shake the feeling that our community’s responses to depression are failing brilliant people like Aaron. Anyone who dreams big is going to encounter extreme stress. Anyone who works independently, driven by their own values and goals is especially vulnerable to spirals of guilt, frustration and depression when they hit a wall or push past their limits. The private, quiet lives that fuel our focus when we’re happy become hellish traps when depression starts. All of us someday will lose a parent, a partner, a sibling, or someone close to us. If it hasn’t happened to you, it will– and it can throw you, hard. So get help, don’t be afraid to rely on others (including doctors or therapists) and when it hits your friends, go above and beyond for them. If you have a project you’d like to pursue to address mental health issues at scale, using the Internet, be in touch– we’d love to help in some way.
With sadness, and love,
Fight for the Future
P.S. We’ll be launching something in the morning.