Where were the activists when Aaron Swartz needed support the most?

Where were the activists when Aaron Swartz needed support the most?

Summary: His tragic death is being used by many to push through new laws and demands for changes in government and academia. Yet those voices were largely absent when he needed them the most.

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TOPICS: IT Policies
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Hamish McKenzie recently attended a memorial for Aaron Swartz, the young activist who committed suicide while being prosecuted for downloading millions of academic papers.

He writes:

Berin Szoka, the president of the group TechFreedom, offered some words that were uncomfortable for some. Speaking of the Internet activist’s alleged crime of downloading millions of academic articles, Szoka stepped out of the night’s orthodoxy of holding Swartz up as a hero.

“I cannot condone what Aaron did,” Szoka started, about to launch into an argument about how Internet freedom should not be a partisan issue. He was cut off before he could go any further.

See: Aaron Swartz and how to identify a martyr

The future of Aaron Swartz has little to do with Aaron Swartz and has everything to do with agendas of digital libertarians and related activists.

I attended a recent memorial in San Francisco (above) and saw how many speakers spoke passionately for changes in the law, for changes in government policies, for many worthwhile causes, as if Mr. Swartz's death was an intentional sacrifice for a greater good.

I've had my run-ins online with those that claim to know what Aaron Swartz died for, and that seek to enroll him in their agendas.

It's not that I disagree with calls for overhauling laws, or freeing medical research data that was publicly funded. But that these calls for activism were lacking in volume and frequency when he was living.

At the recent memorial in San Francisco, I had an interesting conversation with John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about Mr Swartz's activism and the levels of support he was getting from the EFF, and other organizations and individuals.

I asked if it was his activism that led to his suicide? He said possibly it was "a lack of activism" in general around the issues and his impending trial. He wasn't able to get the attention he really needed for his activism to succeed.

Are the digital libertarians now hoisting his corpse onto their shoulders and wailing and flailing against "the Man" and calling his suicide a sacrifice for their agendas, when they could have done so much more to help him when he was alive?

Was it the lack of activism that pushed him to suicide? 

Where were those people that now loudly claim him for their own, when he needed them to be just as vocal in their support, on the eve of his trial and prosecution? 

I hadn't heard much about his work and the names of those that supported him, until his suicide. And I usually pay attention to these types of things. And the same is true for many others I've spoken with. Several speakers at the SF memorial admitted they had never met him.

Aaron Swartz left no explanation for his suicide. And it would seem that he has ceded control over how the world now views his life and death and the reasons for both. 

But that's not entirely true.

While we do not know his reasons for suicide, we do know that he did not want it to be used to further the causes he is now linked with. Because he could have easily combined the two in a last letter if that's what he wanted. But he didn't do that.

People should respect his decision to separate his death from his activism and not appropriate his last tragic act in life to bolster their causes -- no matter how progressive or just.

The lesson in Aaron Swartz's suicide is clear: Let's not wait to speak out on important issues, and let's help our lead activists in their times of greatest need -- when they are still living. 

Please see: 

The inevitable canonization of Aaron Swartz - First Martyr in the digital church of The Singularity? | ZDNet

Topic: IT Policies

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  • All true, but...

    ... we should be concerned if an intelligent and promising young person commits suicide rather than face prosecution for what amounts to copyright infringement.
    John L. Ries
    • You're dismissing the fact that he suffered from a medical condition

      That led to depressing and suicidal thoughts. prosecution for what amounts to copyright infringement may have been what helped pull the trigger, but is not the cause. People suffering from depression find many triggers. If it wasn’t this, something else would have likely caused him to take his own life sometime in the future. People that suffer from depression take their own lives all the time, and many times over something we here would call trivial.
      DontUseGoogleAtAll!
      • he managed

        to live up to 26 with these thoughts though before meeting with cruel prosecution.
        I mean, the very idea of threatening with a monstrously disproportionate term is beyond morality.
        eulampius
  • but...

    Something that you're not considering is that often times people become complacent in their lives until something tragic happens; someone finding the strength to do get their life together after a loved one dies, people coming together after a mass tradgedy, etc... To allow something to happen that affects people in the way that this did, and NOT do anything to change the situations that may have led to his suicide, like changing the 1894 law that may have put him in prison for 35 years when rapists often don't spend that much time in jail, would be a tragedy itself, and would allow him to die in vein. So what if it took his death to get some people off their asses to do something about it. If that's what it took, that's what it took.
    atv33
    • oops...

      Plenty of typos in my comment...meant "1984 law", and blah blah. Was typing quickly.
      atv33
  • I never knew who Aaron Swartz was.

    I'm embarrassed to say that given the strong history that Mr. Swartz had with many of the technologies and services that I've used, enjoyed and profited from. After learning of his suicide, I was glued to the screen... reading articles from throughout the web on the contributions he made.. as well as the trouble he had gotten in.

    While I'm a free market capitalist who believes in liberty, I'm not upset and raising Aaron's name to pursue my own interests or make claims as to why he committed suicide. It's often in a tragedy, though, that we dig deep or discover new truths. In this case, it's clear - in my opinion - that the US government chose to pursue prosecution with the threat of a decade in jail over an issue that MIT and the software provider dropped charges.

    In a country where an economy was destroyed and no one has seen a day of jail time, I find it incredulous that someone who posed a victimless crime would be faced with such strong prosecution. Whether or not Mr. Swartz committed suicide over the prosecution isn't relevant in my opinion.

    Remove the martyr and we still have a story of tyranny. That alone is worth free citizens assembling and raising hell. If using Mr. Swartz puts a spotlight on this issue (which I believe there's strong evidence that he agreed with), so be it.
    Douglas Karr
  • Lack Of Voices?

    "But that these calls for activism were lacking in volume and frequency when he was living."

    Not really, they just did not have a platform - that is the problem today, everyone talks about freedom of speech but along with this freedom (as the founding fathers knew, you need an equal platform).

    Let me pose a different scenario for you, Aaron Swartz was killed by the government - it was a national plan to take him down, all one has to do is look at the actors. Let me share another point in regard to his death, I am sure you have heard "give me liberty or give me death," this might be invoked here.
    anarcho1
    • Object Lesson

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yEHLJg9np0
      anarcho1
  • People don't kill themselves for those reasons

    People don't commit suicide because of a cause, they do it because they suffer depression. He had probably fought with suicidal thoughts for a long time, this trial and the surrounding depressed him more than his threshold, so he killed himself. In other words, he didn't hang himself for your internet freedom. To pretend like he did is your own personal aggrandizement at his expense.
    quipage
    • A Point Of Clarification

      Ok, let me clarify something about the community you are talking about, it is diverse and therefore you cannot lump everyone together. However, there are a few ways this went down with Aaron, where he did not have to leave an explanatory note. The way in which he chose to leave sent a strong message, it signified (to the hacker community) that there were no other options. He hung himself, and he used a methodology that was not only a familiar in this communities language (hanging is a used form of symbolism), but what has been used as a tool by the "justice" community for years - not only in the USA but elsewhere. So in his act he forged a strong communication that linked both worlds.

      I could say more about this, but this is not the correct forum - I am not in error, or making a mistake by saying this - and some people here are trivializing what has happened by reducing it merely to a deadly episode of depression.
      anarcho1
  • I've Been Saying This Since Day One

    Lawrence Lessig said he crossed a line. He did not have the courage of his convictions -- he slyly incited this young man to hacking -- and it was massive hacking that MIT's IT people said was such -- they aren't the ones calling it "taking out too many library books".

    Then Lessig didn't go to bat for him, nor did any of the EFF leaders like Doctorow or Mitch Kapor.

    I don't share their convictions of copyleftism at all, and to me, their double game and hypocrisy lets me know the bankruptcy of their ideology once again.
    Prokofy Neva
  • Foremski, you are a POMPOUS ASS~!!!

    Tom Foremski wrote:

    “While we do not know his reasons for suicide, we do know that he did not want it to be used to further the causes he is now linked with. Because he could have easily combined the two in a last letter if that's what he wanted. But he didn't do that.”
    this,..

    “People should respect his decision to separate his death from his activism and not appropriate his last tragic act in life to bolster their causes -- no matter how progressive or just.”

    .. and this:

    “I hadn't heard much about his work and the names of those that supported him, until his suicide. And I usually pay attention to these types of things.”

    Tom, your presuming to know Aaron's intention by not leaving a suicide note is both wildly offensive and also pure pomposity and therefore BULLSHIT.
    You freely admit that you did not know Aaron personally and that you didn't know much about his work.

    For you to presume to know what his intentions were shows profound arrogance. According to the principle of Occam's razor, which states, “among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.” your theory is pure CRAP~!

    Whatever Aaron's intentions were, we should all be elated if constructive changes come about by the efforts of all those made heartbroken by the death of such a brilliant and kind man as was Aaron Swartz.
    Moe Lawns
  • What A Bloody Hypocrite

    You berate others for not doing more, yet when I search back through your columns on ZDNet, I find NOT A SINGLE ONE mentioning Aaron Swartz before his death.

    You probably never even heard of him before. Yet somehow you try to claim the moral high ground. You are no better than all the other exploiters of this dead man.
    ldo17
  • You cannot be serious

    Umm, pardon me? Shall I list the dozens of non profits, groups, individuals all working for a free internet, the work against abuses of government and corporations? DO you think they don't exist? They have not been working their asses off? The thrust of your argument, it's central theme is false. Really, you seem to have an ax to grind.
    Michael Dee