On January 11th, 2013 our friend and Demand Progress cofounder Aaron Swartz took his own life. Aaron meant so much to an untold number of people whom he’d touched as an activist, writer, technologist, and loved one.
The act took place while he was under indictment — senselessly with up to 50 years in prison being held over his head — for allegedly downloading too many articles from the JSTOR academic cataloging service, using MIT’s open network. As are so many, this case was built on a tenuous legal foundation, and so the prosecutors bullied Aaron to try to compel him to admit his guilt and accept a plea deal. Aaron refused.
Aaron’s intimates know that the stress that followed from this predicament was the proximate cause for his suicide.
It’s because of what happened to him, in his honor, and so as to grasp at an unattainable modicum of justice, that we’ve worked to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) -- the statute under which he was prosecuted. A bill that would do just that, named Aaron’s Law, was introduced in his honor and we hope that it will soon be reintroduced in the new Congress.
Since Aaron passed — and because of the activism of so many of you — we’ve succeeded at fending off two attempts to expand the CFAA, which would have further stifled expression, activism, and technological progress. That tens of thousands of people have mobilized to work to support such a seemingly esoteric cause is further testament to the profundity of Aaron’s work and the love he has engendered in so many.
And it’s for Aaron and so many more -- hundreds of thousands of others each year, whose names aren’t carried across the globe on the nightly news or though IRC channels -- that we’ve fought to hold his prosecutors accountable, and set an example for others in law enforcement.
Just this week, the White House acknowledged a petition on its “We The People Site” that was filed the day after Aaron’s passing, and which many of you signed, that demanded the firing of the United States Attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz. The White House declined to do what we asked for. But the uproar at Ortiz’s misuse of her power has led to public backlash to the work of a U.S. Attorney at a scale that’s perhaps unprecedented, and has damaged the likelihood of the fulfillment of ambitions that this vicious and incompetent official holds for elected office or a judgeship.
Aaron remains with us in spirit -- we think of him each and every day. We carry with us memories of his wit, his intellect, the humble way in which he exhorted us to do whatever we might to better the lives of as many people as possible. His mark is readily seen on the Net Neutrality organizing that’s been our flagship campaign over the last year. Just as during the effort to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act a few years ago — the censorship bill upon opposition to which Demand Progress was founded — we’ve done the impossible, time and again. And we now appear — presuming ongoing vigilance — on the cusp of possible victory.
We’ll have to fight hard over the next few months, as the forces we’re combatting are relentless, but we now hold the upper hand, and if we do what we need to odds are that we will win.
So if you’d like a jolt of inspiration as we head down the stretch, please watch this video, of the final public talk Aaron gave, about how the people rose up and won a once-impossible victory against some of the nation’s most powerful political and corporate interests just a few years ago.
If you would like to learn more about Aaron and why he means so much to so many, please click here to watch The Internet’s Own Boy, Brian Knappenberger’s documentary about Aaron’s life and work, which was recently short-listed for an Oscar.
And you can take part in what's surely one of many events in honor of Aaron this week by supporting the New Hampshire Rebellion, which begins today and runs through January 21st. It’s organized by Aaron’s longstanding friend Lawrence Lessig, in part to acknowledge Aaron and his anti-corruption work.
We miss you, Aaron.
-David and David, and the rest of Demand Progress.