We are deeply saddened by the passing of Demand Progress’s Aaron Swartz. Friends and family have issued a statement and created a memorial page, here.
Aaron was a dear friend, and an ideological brother in arms. As others have spoken to at great length, he was indeed a passionate advocate for access to information and for a free and open Internet. He believed in these things for their own sakes, but moreover as means towards the even deeper end of building a world defined by social and economic justice. He resisted the impulse to presume that he alone was responsible for his brilliance or should benefit therefrom, and he wasn’t a techno-utopian: He was a communitarian, somebody who was deeply aware of our world’s injustices and who understood the constant struggle that is necessary to even begin to remedy them. That’s why this organization exists.
We’ve worked closely with Aaron over the last two or three years, but have not known him for as long as have some others who’ve written profoundly moving tributes to him and his life’s work. We met him as a genius, but not as the boy-genius that Larry and Cory and many others knew, and we would suggest reading their pieces (below) for deeper insight into his personal and professional evolution. We first encountered Aaron through our executive director’s unsuccessful run for Congress in 2010. Aaron became a fixture in the campaign office, rigging up cheap ways to do polling and robo-calls and helping give the uphill effort a fighting chance. But it was never about just one campaign: He was honing skills and tools he wanted to use to build capacity for much broader social movements that would create fundamental, structural change. He’d taken to calling himself an “applied sociologist.” He was trying to hack the world, and we were happy to help in what small ways we could.
That campaign work quickly transitioned into Demand Progress and Aaron’s conception of the initial petition in opposition to the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, and then the ensuing 18 months of activism that helped bring down SOPA and PIPA. There are so many stories to tell about that effort: trudging around the halls of the Capitol, getting under the skin of intransigent senators, generally scrapping away as we struggled to build a movement against all odds. Many of them are best told by Aaron himself, here. But Aaron’s legal troubles began approximately commensurate with the launch of that anti-COICA petition, and it was clear that his persecution by an institutionally corrupted criminal justice system weighed heavily on him throughout the last two years, and certainly more so of late.
We are working with Aaron’s friends, family, and colleagues to determine how best to pay tribute to him — it will surely entail engaging in political activism in service of making this world a more just one. We will be in touch with our members and the general public in the near future to offer suggestions about ways to move forward. Tragically, we’ll have to continue to stifle the visceral impulse to run our half-formed ideas by Aaron, to help us make them better ones.
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In the meantime, Aaron had deep respect for GiveWell. Those seeking to donate in his name might consider giving to the charities they recommend.