Thursday, January 17, 2013

Never Can Say Goodbye

I keep thinkin that our problems
Soon are all gonna work out

But there's that same unhappy feeling and 
there's that anguish, there's that doubt

The Jackson 5 song keeps playing in my head as the world says goodbye to Aaron Swartz this week. He was 26 and he did more for an open internet, for freedom of information, for access, for digital rights - for everything I believe in and hold dear - than peers three times his age. 

He was a co-author of RSS. He was the founder of Demand Progress, and one of the most ardent and effective voices against SOPA/PIPA. He created Reddit. He wrote code that tapped into academic library resources - opening them up to those not privileged to the secret society of the Academy, and he made government documents available to people not as smart as Aaron. He believed publications on academic research, paid for by citizens, should be available to all citizens and he used his coding talents to make that belief a reality. 

And for that, for access to academic research for all, for access to government documents that we still pay 9 cents a page for citizen-owned information, Aaron willingly took heat for his actions, for his beliefs, for social justice and information free and unfettered. 

He was braver and smarter than any of us, but not smart enough to know the cost he would pay for prosecutorial over-reach and how the powers-that-be like to make examples of our best and brightest. Aaron, who had no interest in making money from his brilliance, faced insurmountable legal costs and tens of years in prison for his belief in freedom of information.

To lose a talent like Aaron - skills of code, of kindness, of creativity, of dedication to social justice - because the U.S. Justice Department and MIT knew choosing him as their scapegoat would stop other digital freedom fighters? It's heart-breaking and the consequences are provoking sadness, rage, and revenge across the land. 

Some are working inside the legal system and some, well, not so much. Here's to the beginning of push back - too little, too late, but a tribute nonetheless.
Aaron was our hero. And he's gone. And a collective response is just beginning. 
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