Aaron Swartz the Activist

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Aaron Swartz at a Stop SOPA rally on Jan. 18, 2012. Photo by Daniel J. Sieradski, Creative Commons
Aaron Swartz at a Stop SOPA rally on Jan. 18, 2012. Photo by Daniel J. Sieradski, Creative Commons

At our staff meeting earlier today, Bill gave a heartfelt tribute to the programming prodigy and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life on Friday at the age of 26.

At age 14, Swartz helped develop RSS, the now ubiquitous tool for syndicating Web content. He went on to found Infogami, which became part of the popular social news website, Reddit. He was instrumental in the founding of Creative CommonsDemandProgress.org and archive.org, and was well known in Web circles as a passionate advocate for a free and open Internet.

At the time of his death, Swartz was facing the possibility of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for illegally downloading millions of academic articles from JSTOR, a subscription-only service, which he allegedly intended to release to the public.

But it was Swartz’s political activism, and particularly his concern about the corrosive effects of money in politics, outlined in this post by Matt Stoller on naked capitalism that really struck Bill.

Stoller writes:

He was driven by a desire for justice, and not just for open information. He wanted an end to the drug war, he wanted a financial system not dominated by Bob Rubin, and he wanted monetary policy run to help ordinary people. Some of his last tweets are on monetary policy, and the platinum coin option for raising the debt ceiling (which is a round-about way of preventing cuts to social welfare programs for the elderly). Aaron was a liberal who saw class and race as core driving forces in American politics. In a lovely essay on how he organized his career, he made this clear in a very charming but pointed way.

So how did I get a job like mine? Undoubtedly, the first step is to choose the right genes: I was born white, male, American. My family was fairly well-off and my father worked in the computer industry. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any way of choosing these things, so that probably isn’t much help to you.

But, on the other hand, when I started I was a very young kid stuck in a small town in the middle of the country. So I did have to figure out some tricks for getting out of that. In the hopes of making life a little less unfair, I thought I’d share them with you.

Making “life a little less unfair.” Those aren’t the words of a techno-utopianist, those are the words of a liberal political organizer. Read more »

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