Aaron is survived by his parents Robert and Susan Swartz, his younger brothers Noah and Ben, and his partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.
Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com.
Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.
Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.
Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.
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. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.
Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.
Estou muito consternada com essa perda e terrivelmente assustada com esse sistema judiciário que causou essa morte. Apoio a causa pelo acesso gratuito ao conhecimento!
I am very saddened by this loss and terribly frightened by this court system that caused this death. Support the cause by free access to knowledge!
One thing I am trying to do in Aaron’s memory is spread his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as much as I can. Gratitude and admiration are both not strong enough to describe what I feel for Aaron’s work. I wish a candle could hold all those feelings and carry them upwards to feel their warmth where he is now. Thank you Aaron. Rest in peace. We will try to continue the information war.
As many of you may know, our daughter Taren’s beloved partner, Aaron Swartz— human rights activist and computer genius—died Friday. He took his own life in despair over prosecution by the US government. On Tuesday, Aaron was buried, but we hope that the ideals to which he devoted his life were not buried with him. Here are six things we can do, individually and collectively, to further his legacy.
1) Support the adoption of an open-access policy by DePauw faculty and DePauw University. Aaron believed passionately that information—especially scholarly information—should be freely available to all people on this planet, not just privileged individuals like us who have the institutional ties or individual wealth necessary to access it. We believe that, too. In recent years, faculty at some of the world’s leading universities have adopted policies requiring that all research published in scholarly journals by faculty and students at that institution also be made available on-line for free. Hope College, a GLCA sister institution of DePauw, has already adopted an open-access policy. DePauw should follow suit as soon as possible, and then encourage the rest of the GLCA and other liberal arts colleges to do so as well.
2) Consider making your publications open-access. Most open-access policies at universities are prospective, not retrospective, thus denying most people free access to scholarship that has already been published. In solidarity with Aaron, this week thousands of scholars have posted their own published articles at http://pdftribute.net/ If you have none to post, then post something by a scholar who has died and cannot liberate his or her own articles. As Aaron wrote in 2008, “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations… . Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves.”
3) Support the nomination of Aaron to be the recipient of the American Library Association’s 2013 James Madison Award. Before Aaron’s death, DePauw librarian Bruce Sanders was preparing to nominate Aaron for the ALA’s annual award to the person who has “championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s ‘right to know.’” James Jacobs and Shinjoung Yeo of Stanford University seconded the nomination, as did the People’s Librarians of Occupy Wall Street through Mandy Henk. If you are a member of the ALA, please consider adding your voice in support.
4) Sign the White House petition protesting overreach of prosecutorial power. Hundreds of articles and blogs have been written in the past few days about the overreach of prosecutorial power that led directly to Aaron’s death, including one by the retired federal judge from the US District Court where Aaron was indicted. But Aaron is only one of literally millions of people in the USA—most of them poor and powerless—who suffer from a system of injustice that allows prosecutors to pile on charges and potential years of incarceration to the extent that nearly all defendants are forced to accept plea bargains. Fewer than 3% of defendants in federal cases last year had the temerity to take their cases to trial. The White House petition, which has already been signed by 35,000 people, asks for the dismissal of Aaron’s prosecutor—a symbolic but important step to take. Prosecutorial discretion at the federal, state and local levels needs to be reined in and federal prosecutors in particular need to be made more accountable.
5) Support the newly proposed “Aaron’s Law,” which would reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). On the day Aaron was buried, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren introduced “Aaron’s Law,” which would amend a key part of the CFAA, one of the statutes under which Aaron was indicted. According to DemandProgress.org (one of the many organizations that Aaron founded in his short life), “The CFAA makes violations of a website’s terms of service agreement or user agreement—that fine print you never read before you check the box next to it—a FELONY, potentially punishable by many years in prison. That’s how over-broad this dangerous statute is, and one way it lets showboating prosecutors file charges against people who’ve done nothing wrong.” You can sign the letter supporting Aaron’s Law here.
6) Share this letter with colleagues at other universities.
The day after his death, Aaron’s family and Taren released a statement about Aaron’s legacy that read in part:
Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.
Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the range and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across the world. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.
Like so many others, we loved Aaron and shall miss him terribly. Thank you for your help in honoring his memory.
I am deeply sad that you are no longer with us on this side of the world. I feel such a loss that I wish I can travel back through time to meet you. I wish I could meet you to share your idealism, to talk about how you want to change the world, to share your depression about the injustice of the world, to dream together about how things should be. I love you Aaron. I admire and am inspired by what you have done for the world. The rest of us will work together to help realize your dream of a better world with freedom to connect.
You are gone but your presence is not gone. You are in everyone’s heart. Your smile, your voice, your image are here just like you are still with us. You are like a new friend of mine who I have never talked to or even heard of before today but who is important to me. We were born the same year but I was born in China. Your efforts to make the Internet an open place to share will continue to inspire me and millions of other young people all over the world. I can not help but thinking about your witty, your smile, your warmth, your kind, your energetic spirit. I love you and you will always be in my heart. May you forever in peace.
Yours sincerely, Lina
Your tireless efforts have given us all much more freedom. Your legacy will live on. We “are all promised” eternal life….. move on proudly brother..RIP
Carissimi genitori anch’io padre sono vicino a voi in questo struggente momento. La circolazione libera della conoscenza fa paura a molte persone, perché sapere è potere, mentre vogliono tenerci nella ignoranza. Ciao Aaron che tu possa continuarci a seguire ovunque sia il tuo spirito. Un abbraccio
Dear father parents are too close to you in this poignant moment. The free circulation of knowledge is frightening to many people, because knowledge is power, and want to keep us in ignorance. Hello Aaron you can continuarci to follow wherever your spirit. A hug
More than a genious, more than a computer geek, more than all, you, Aaron, was a beautiful human being, a lovely soul, a person dedicated to distibute knowledge to all people, to improve this world. RIP, Aaron. This world does not deserve you. The Justice of your country – of all countries – are made for the big-money guys, not for the ones that desires that any person have rights to have dignity in their lifes , to learn, to grow. Your death is another proof that the human race is a failure and the exceptions – you was a enromous exception – for that shall return to the cosmos, as bright energy, to work in another planets where love is the only law and inhabitants do not know what money means.
When measured by the way we treat our genius minds, the people who think outside the box, as a society we just scored a big, fat F-. There’s just no other way to look at it.
Let us make sure Aaron’s death wasn’t in vein. We must cherish our intellectuals, not chastise them for having unorthodox ideas. These people are the greatest resources we have as a species.
Aaron, may you find in death what you couldn’t alive.
Facing this huge loss
I did not know even his name until the day after the fateful Friday when the tragic news spread like fire over the internet.
As I started to read about Aaron and his accomplishments, to absorb his thoughts, writings, energetic commitment to justice and freedom, my sorrow grew with every word, every interview. I am in sorrow for the loss to his family and friends, and I am in sorrow for the loss to the nation and to the world.
We cannot lose a person such as Aaron, without leaving a hole in the heart and a deep sadness for all that we have lost.
On Aaron’s behalf, and in his honor, I feel we must push back against the forces of tyranny that pushed on him to destroy the peace in his life, and I hope to play a part in that movement. Let us all please move to reform this detestable system of “justice” so we can someday say it without the quotes.
In other times, we lost another loving wonderful man when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and in honor of Aaron, I need to quote something that Robert Kennedy said that so very much applies to Aaron:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Let’s make sure the current he started continues to knock down the walls of oppression. My condolences to his family and friends.
I miss him and grieve for his loss.
I maintain pkgsrc packages of some of Aaron’s software, and over the last decade or so would occasionally send him bits and pieces of code. Along the way we somehow discovered that we’d grown up a couple hundred meters apart, separated by a driveway and some trees. (If only we’d known, and been around at the same time, our common interests would doubtless have made us fast friends.)
When sending patches I’d always ask what he’d been up to lately, because it was always something new and ambitious, even audacious. We were just nerds on the Internet whose paths occasionally crossed, but I felt like I knew him better than that. Above all, he had managed to hold fast to a way of thinking about our world – as evidenced by his writing and his actions – that I had forced myself to hold rather more loosely. I always admired him for that.
Had we had the chance to know each other better, I’m quite sure I’d have admired Aaron for much more.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
It’s tragic, it’s sad. I know I don’t need to explain, we all feel the same.
I wrote this poem in Aaron’s memory and I would like to share it:
That night the stars were less brighter. That night was dark and silent… like it was holding it’s breath. The sky didn’t wanted to see. The sun didn’t wanted to come out. A mother cried that morning. A mother is still crying right now. And innumerable souls are still weeping in silence, for you, Aaron.
I met Aaron twice and, each time, I was struck by the searing lucidity of his mind, by his uncanny ability to see further than most of us. Issues fraught with complex consequences generally paralyze people; in his case, he would suddenly come up with a perspective that made clear that the rightness of the objective did not have to be compromised on account of the difficulties involved in reaching it. Not only was he brilliant, dauntingly so at times, he was ethically brilliant. At the same time, he was deeply approachable, profoundly human, so very pleasant to know. I write all this as an old professor who has had the privilege of meeting many excellent young people in my career. Aaron was simply the best.
His death is obviously touching a deep nerve everywhere, so unjust and stupid it is. Hounding a young man as was obviously the case here appears idiotic and needlessly cruel: if the Justice Department had expended as much energy on some of the banks’ leaders who created the recent economic disaster in the world as they did with Aaron, it would have been money well spent. In this case, the zeal of prosecutors is, to say the least, ambiguous. The possibility that someone wanted to score an easy “intellectual property” victory to advance one’s legal career will always linger in the back of my mind. I would certainly harbour a deep feeling of guilt if I were that prosecutor.
Let Aaron’s name stand as a symbol of redress and true justice in a very flawed world. Let it also stand as a reminder of warm humanity and deep concerns for others. We are mourning a truly extraordinary individual. We all miss him and his death makes us much poorer.
Profound loss … how is it possible that I have wept every day for the last week for a young man, his family, and his devoted friends when I don’t know any of them personally? I have also wept for myself and the world at large, like so many others, because we lost something big and important on Friday. I am easily old enough to be Aaron’s mother, yet I have lost whatever vestige of naivete that remained in my cynical brain over the events surrounding his prosecution and suicide. The venality and stupid orthodoxy of our justice system and those who manage it is shameful.
I add my outrage, compassion, and commitment to help move the things along that Aaron embraced, to the myriad of voices that have already spoken. Perhaps we really can create a collective conscience great enough and ethical enough to carry on Aaron’s work in whatever way possible.
I beg all of the other Aaron/Erin’s out there! Please, please, please keep stepping outside the box, continue to challenge orthodoxy, and remember the greater good. We need you! I just hope we don’t fail you to.
I never had a chance to meet Aaron, but have known him through his work. He is an inspiration and a true being of light. Reading what the others have wrote, I find that everything there is to say has already been said about him. He was one of the few amongst us 20-somethings that actually had substance. He was one of the few that is worthy of being looked up to. His light will shine on forever. He left us a legacy, and his name will never be forgotten.
I am deeply sorry for your loss. I didn’t know Aaron, but he was obviously incredibly gifted, as well as brave. The injustice he had to face is incredibly disturbing, but I hope that you are comforted by the fact that he did so much towards democratizing and communicating paths towards greater knowledge, and that he is an inspiration to many, myself included.
As much as I am ashamed to admit, the general population is bunch of followers. We wait for someone else to to create, to discover, to make a difference, before we get on the bandwagon. We fail to imagine anything new and yet we think we are creative. We keep asking for a change in the world and we wait for someone else to do it for us. We see someone doing great things and we wait for him to do more. So here we are… the one we were watching is no longer there. So are we going to sit back and wait for another rift in the universe? Or are we willing to fight for the same cause… the freedom to have equal knowledge, to have shared information, to have one unified and more importantly, an informed world. Let’s do our part. Let’s not limit our knowledge. Let’s not sit at our desks hogging what we know because we are too scared to let go. Let’s not all his actions be in vain. Let’s continue to prove that the internet community is far stronger, smarter and more humane than anyone could every think of.
Aaron Swartz – an amazing and extraordinary man. A prodigious talent that will be missed by all of us.
The world is now a lesser place without Aaron. I pray his legacy will be an impetus for change.
Dear Aaron, family and friends,
I have been able to think of little else since I learnt of your death last week. Although we had not met, I knew of your plight via some ThoughtWork’s meetings late last year around the unjust criminalisation of your actions at JSTOR. Sadly, the next news I had about you was that you were gone. I feel deeply ashamed to be part of a world that thoughtlessly and callously extinguished a mighty intellect, generous heart and courageous spirit that only fought to protect the rights and enrich the lives of the many.
What really galls me is that we spend our lives believing that right will prevail and justice be done, instead the good has been crushed and the villains run amok. Shame on the DoJ who ironically were motivated by all that you were not: greed, fame, ambition and ruthlessness.
We all failed you and I am deeply sorry for that, we should have stood shoulder to shoulder with you and helped bear the terrible burden that was placed upon you. When facing financial ruin, the intimidation of those you knew, decades in prison and a criminal record, (for something that was not even a crime) all of this would be enough to crack the spirit of even the most determined warrior.
To Aaron’s family and friends, my heart is broken for you and I only hope some day you can learn to carry this great pain. You produced a person that was truly one in a million: be proud, we are deeply grateful.
Destroying you will not extinguish your work, you pointed out the path and we must all now step up and act, protest, donate and signup. We cannot stand idly by whilst the authorities pick off those who are smart, energetic and fearless enough to hold them to account.
Aaron is gone but we are all Aaron and his fearless spirit will guide the way.
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
…following the roads your long hard stepping to freedom of net, to freedom of mankind had beaten further ahead. i promise by heart to contribute all i’m able to do here in the material and here in the virtual dimension of this world – and not least to hold on to the memory of beings like you, aaron. we are the ones, aaron – not them! Thinking of you PETER. (Germany)
In my circles, I know more than a few people who have stood up for what they believed in, taking a risk of serious consequences. But most of them have been very strong, more outgoing personalities, who could react to attacks without flinching. It is perhaps more brave to take on the world when you are shy and it can hurt you so badly.
I never quite knew what to make of Aaron. Having been a whiz-kid myself I will admit I had some jealousy for somebody who was outdoing us all in that dept. People don’t realise just how hard it is to get adults to respect you and listen to you when you’re that young. He did it.
Aaron once said that I was one of his heroes. All I can say is that kid, you got that backwards. You’re one of mine.
Just looking at the pictures and reading about this beautiful young man, broke my heart. I wish you peace and strength and that Hashem brings your family a long life, with renewed joy. with respect, susan
Like so many of us, I have come to know of Aaron much too late. It is beyond words to express how sad it is to loose such a formidable warrior. It is also not difficult to figure out that he just knew too much and that he was already in danger before this. But his passing is also a victory at the same time. He has drawn attention of vast number of people around the world to key problems that we face as humanity. I have learned so much from him in the last few days from his blogs and his talks. He has shown us a path and I will go there as far as I can. He is irreplaceable but a part of him will live on in all of us who really understand him. Blessings and Peace Aaron!
Aaron and Family, your efforts have not been in vain. Burned out, facing tons of legal crap, depressed, hating what has become of IT (my career for 20 plus years) in the Microsoft-SOPA-jackboot era – this week I got back to coding, logged on the EFF and am determined to rebuild my career as coder and activist. Aaron, your picture is on my desktop, you are a modern Prometheus. Knowledge is a far greater a gift to humans than fire, knowledge is our only hope in the quest for justice for the common man. Sad that it takes such a tragedy for us to stop and think how extraordinary this explosion in access to knowledge has been via the Web, networks and computers in general, you fought for such a worthy cause. Go with God Aaron, I won’t forget you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I want to share a song I am releasing as a dedication to Aaron Swartz. It’s licensed under Creative Commons, free to listen/download/distribute. It’s my way of grieving, and my best effort to share his compelling story.
I am an artist/programmer/activist who only knew his name in passing due to DemandProgress & his efforts against SOPA. After his tragic death I read a bunch about Aaron, about watched many videos.
I was so moved by his story I decided to release my first public single as a tribute to him. This is a big step for me, as I’m usually very private…but I have been re-inspired, to say the least.
The song titled “Vote 4 Hackers”, along with an article I wrote about Swartz’s, can be found here: http://contrascience.com/vote-4-hackers-aaron-swartz-tribute
Download via Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/contrascience/vote-4-hackers-aaron-swartz-tribute
Video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-VHb91Ic1w
I am deeply saddened by the loss of Aaron Swartz and can only imagine how you feel. But if it’s any condolence, he’s sparked at least one very passionate flame (my own)…and we both know there are many others.
I do not know you in person. I am just an year older than you. We have something in common which unites us – THE INTERNET. We belong here. This is our world where boundaries are torn apart.
I cried. Literally cried reading about you. A part of mine wants to beleive and write this -‘Well staged Dark Knight! How is Florence? Hope you are having a good time out there.See you in the next Python conference presenting some uber cool thing which you would get to work in isolation from the rest of the world who dont understand the genius in you’. Wish it is true.I know reality is different.My wishful thinking is not going to be true.
Some 2-3 years before, I lost 2 friends of mine.One, really brilliant fellow, did as you did. Another, just vanished into thin air. I am still searching for him. Thus,I am able to empathize more with all that people of our age go through and what you might have been through. Research, hacking, etc – which would be termed as path breaking things – are no longer fun and free.I am intrigued to think what would the society made of Edison had he been living now. May be his professor might have shown him the doors because of 99 failures or may be the justice system might have booked him for wasting state money, but producing no result.Damn!
Aron, You shall live on, for, the free content on the internet has an indebtion to repay you. You shall live on, for, not just the fact you were a genuius but you were a kind person. A gentle human being who touched the heart of many who came in touch with you. There are many geeks and nerds in this world, but not everyone has a kind helping heart which you had. Thank you. You shall live on, for, in the sincerity of the intentions you did nothing wrong and is surely on the lines of some good souls who have walked on this planet.You just genuinely wanted to help others. That is something glorious.
This world may not be right place for you with all the jealously and ill-motivated people around. May be you belong elsewhere where only kindness and good things exist. Wishing you well!
with sincere appreciations, Vignesh
Dear Robert and Susan Swartz,
Having experienced first hand, the experiences parents go through in these situations, my heartfelt feelings of reassurance to both of you. Your son was a great man whose ‘love for humanity’ was so rare in the technological world.
In India, in some schools,as we grew up we are taught some important scriptural lessons. A profound teaching is – soul never perishes. So, please be reassured, your son is just doing fine. Nothing can happen to him. It is as much simple a fact as someone going from USA to Australia.
For the good hearted person he was, only good shall happen to him. Sometimes, in a classroom of mediocore students, a teacher may pick the brightest one and put him in a place where his talents and abilities would be used better. May be God felt, this world is not the right place for him,for people here are not so good and unworthy of his good deeds.
Thanks for giving us a nice person.
good wishes, Vignesh.
A sad welcome to the club. Our daughter, Lauren, took her life 16 months ago.
I realize that the death of Aaron is so public and that the news media and Aaron’s followers will buoy you all up during the “shock” period.
I just wanted to reach out as another father who lost a child to this.
There is not much help out there for dads.
We need to get together and talk.
If you want to, I’m all ears. We raised the kids in Naperville, IL.
Doug Marlowe, father of Lauren Jill Marlowe 2/5/1984 – 9/20/2011.
I heard of Aaron Swartz only after his death. Shortly afterwards I found myself reading on his website. It didn’t take long till I couldn’t hold weeping. As I read more and more of his essays and saw all the things Aaron had achieved – not for himself, but instead for the society as a whole I understood that Aaron was not only a very intelligent, but also a very idealistic young man with a great drive to make the world a better place.
I don’t have an idea what comes after the end of life, but I’m convinced that if we had more selfless and empathic people like Aaron, heaven would be a place on earth.
My deepest condolences go out to his family. I hope you find the strength to cope with the loss of Aaron.
Martin Winter, Germany
My son informed me of Aaron’s suicide when we met for lunch this week. I am appalled that our government engages in this destructive persecution of individuals who seek to keep the public informed of important information. Is our country turning into a police state?
I am so sorry, and give my deepest condolences to Aaron’s family and friends.
I am so sorry about the tragic loss of Aaron. Although I never met him but I admire and appreciate the great work he had accomplished. Like many, I will remember his tireless selfless and astonishing effort to advance democracy. Like many, I will work to cherish that memory. Though we can’t bring him back, we will make sure he didn’t die in vein by carry on his work. Thank you for giving us such a brilliant humanitarian. RIP, Aaron.
I had not even heard his name until yesterday but have been strangely touched and have found myself weeping. It’s very sad that someone so young felt so much darkness. We are living in dark times, and he may have done something wrong but the whole system is wrong. What stood out for me is his age. At 26 these charges would be a lot to handle and particularly if he was struggling with depression. I hope that his death is used for good and that anyone who contributed towards it is held accountable.
I will keep his family, friends and loved ones in my prayers during this difficult time. I cannot imagine the heartbreak. God bless.
To the parents and family of Aaron Swartz
Although I didn’t know Aaron personally, I feel like “we are all” Aaron Swartz. I am taking this opportunity to express my heartfelt condolences to his loving family and condemn the actions of our over-zealous government in prosecuting/bullying the wrong people. We know Aaron’s death will not be in vain, and that justice WILL BE SERVED in bringing those who abused the system to pay for their hideous and inhumane actions.
This kid’s tragic case underscores our nation’s (academia, professionals, groups) inability to protect one of our brightest from destructive beauraucratic interventions. The lack of transparency and artificial locks he was fighting against ultimately destroyed him. What a shame and what a sham “investigation”, an actual witch hunt. My heart weeps especially for his family God rest his soul
me to get science papers I cannot afford. I am a self taught marine person who has worked with many research projects, but am not affiliated with any one institution. Getting science papers is a begging affair for me. I cannot afford a 35 dollar download to check a protocol. The very idea that someone would try to freeshare science papers is the most freethinking educational idea I’ve ever heard of. Thank you for unleashing the power of the idea. I hope others with better know how than I will continue with it. You are a great loss to me, and others ike me who could really have benefitted from what you did. Peace to those close who knew you well. Meri
Aaron was a huge, magnificent person. I suppose when people talk of a meteoric career you can think of a meteor as something amazing and bright. Also, alas, as something short. A spark, that in Aaron’s case is out – but what an incredible spark he was! Blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, a shining force for good, a maker of great things.
I first came across him online in the hacker community. I mean “hacker” in the most positive way the technical community does, someone who can do stuff, build stuff, with computers. Generally we hung out in Internet Relay Chat rooms. (They’re sort of a window – a chat room – where you can see who else is there and anybody can type anything into the group conversation.) And so, many years ago, there was a Semantic Web Interest Group chat room. The Semantic Web was what was cool and interesting to me at the time and I hang out there and a bunch of other people did too. And this guy “aaronsw” turned up and he introduced himself. He sent a message to the list saying: “Hi, I’m Aaron. I’m not very good at programming but I think what you’re doing is cool and I’d like to help.” And he started doing all kinds of things. He didn’t just talk, he coded! And those who code, who make stuff, get a lot of respect.
He also started organizing people, getting people to agree about how stuff should be done. At one point I was even worried that this “aaronsw” guy, whoever he was, was going to organize, that his organization of his group there was going to threaten the fact that the World Wide Web Consortium, my Consortium, was where all these people would come and do their standards because he seemed to be such a good organizer.
He joined a working group which was doing work on the Semantic Web, the RDF Working Group. At one point this group, which normally met only online, was going to have a rare face-to-face meeting. Normally, everything happens online – we share code, ideas, hopes and dreams. But we actually then had a time when we decided a number of working groups would meet together. And the RDF Working Group decided to meet. And somebody said to me: “So this … umm … Aaron Swartz, he’s going to be coming to the meeting, is he?” And I said: “Yes, I think so.” And they said: “You know, he’s 14.” “What? he’s 14 years old? Oh … He’s a minor! What? We’ve never had a minor, we don’t know what we should do – do we have to get a parent to sign a permission form? We don’t know how to do this!” Here’s this guy who is looked up to and respected and a major contributor – who is wise beyond his years. Suddenly so then he’s revealed face-to-face for being 14. And there’ve been times, other times when I’ve met Aaron face-to-face later at a few conferences and he’s actually had a parent somewhere quietly, discretely in the background. Invisible unless you looked for her. And Aaron would be contributing totally with the best and the brightest of them.
And to say he was contributing with the best and the brightest of them – in fact, he was superlative. He read more. I think, I don’t know if there’s anybody in this room maybe who has read as many books as Aaron read. He thought! The amount he thought – he had to read in order to feed that thought process, maybe. And also he was (this has a certain irony in it) such an ethical person. I’ve not known anybody else who is so ethical: who has thought, all the time, about what is right and what is wrong and what should be done and what should not be done.
And so here was this person who, on the face of it, was a coder. He knew that by writing code that was one way of changing the world. You could change the world directly by giving somebody a hug. You could write a piece of code that would make life easy for a whole lot of people. You could build a website which would make it easier for people to communicate, to work together.
And as he worked on projects in the connected world, Aaron realized that a great waste, a great missed opportunity. He realized that sitting on a lot of government computers was a lot of information which in principle anyone should be allowed access to and in practice they were not. He worked very hard on openness of governments, on advocacy, and taking data which was public and making it actually available on the web. This is something I’ve spent some time on myself, I think its really important, and I was very happy to se Aaron doing this work. He was one of these people jumping up and down trying to persuade governments to just get all the information you have about how the country’s running and put it out there on the web. So he fought for that.
But I remember feeling a little bit of a sinking in my stomach when he said that actually he’d become disillusioned. He’d decided open data wasn’t going solve all the worlds problems. It wasn’t enough. Aaron began to be aware of the complexity of the social systems which he needed to change and the political systems around him. He started to understand how, to get change, you could change the world with software but that you could also use your code to make social change. And you could use that social change, you could create structures and further social changes which would then lead to political change. And he realized that unless you made huge political changes then you wouldn’t be able to solve the problems. And driving this was a fiery sense of justice: it was as though the motivating force behind his work was a keen sense of the real injustices and inequalities in the world.
Aaron was a magnificent person because he took all that on. Took it all on his shoulders and immersed himself in it to a level the rest of us don’t. So he was an amazing person and people a lot older than him kind of looked to him. And looked to the things he wrote. Looked to what he was. Looked to the things he discovered. Looked to the way he operated. Looked to him. So he was a mentor. He is an elder. We have lost an elder.
And we’ve lost a fighter. We’ve lost somebody who put huge energy into righting wrongs. There are people around the world who take it on themselves to just try to fix the world but very few of them do it 24/7 like Aaron. Very few of them are as dedicated. So of the people who are fighting for right, and what he was doing up to the end was fighting for right, we have lost one of our own. So, yes, Taren, we need to all work together, and if we put all our energy together, maybe we can to some small extent, compensate for the loss of Aaron.
So we’ve lost a fighter. We’ve lost a great person. But also, we’ve lost somebody who needed to be nurtured, who needed to be protected. I didn’t work with Aaron as closely as many people here, but I got the sense that all who have known him realized that he needed to be protected. He needed to be held carefully in our hands. He needed to be nurtured. So nurturers of the world, everyone who tried to make a place safe to work or a home safe to live, anyone who listens to another, looks after another or feeds another, all parents everywhere – we’ve lost a child. And there’s nothing worse than that.