Unjust laws exist;
shall we be content to obey them ,
Or shall we endeavor to amend them,
And obey them until we have succeeded,
Or shall we transgress them at once?
When American philosopher Thoreau gave these lines he would never have imagined the impact it would have over the mind of a Jewish kid from Chicago, Illinois when he decided to go against the mighty US political class for Information Rights movement.
Aaron Swartz, the boy genius, computer programmer, writer, Internet pioneer, free speech activist and Information liberator these are just the fraction of the title you could use to describe what Swartz was until the US government pulled out all stops to destroy him. With successful efforts like Reddit, RSS 1.0 and Creative Commons (CC Copyrights system) already on his CV at the age of 20 this boy genius was perceived to be the next in line to the likes of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
With his idealism of thoughts and questions about almost everything in the world, he became very sensitive towards ‘Information freedom.’ He believed that in the Old world broadcasting, there was limit to the As he started to question the school he was in, he questioned the society that built the school, the businesses the school was training the students for and the government that was the responsible for the whole structure.
Consequently Swartz’s later works focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism. He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. He later founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the corporate bankrolled US Congress bill called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). The bill was supposed to kill all the Information rights movement once and for all. What Swartz saw in the bill was the bigger picture of corporate control over the wealth of humankind, all this under active support by the government.
Having faith in the idea that Information is power, he and his fellow activist took the government machinery head-on. With the zeal of a freedom fighter in heart and technology as their weapon, against all odds they defeated SOPA for good. Suddenly Aaron Swartz was a force to be reckoned with. But the very quality of thought that made him a visionary also led to his sad demise. The massive public outcry over the bill and other Information rights movements was seen by the Old World Government as an attack on its very existence. Acting in life saving mode, the government investigators targeted the Swartz and others. They finally brought him down by accusing him of ‘stealing’ electronic versions of academic articles stored at pay per download website JSTOR using the MIT network. What was even more hypocritical was the fact that under this business model, the scholars who actually wrote the articles were not compensated while the profits remained under corporate control.
As the government tightened their control over the case, Swartz was arrested. He was thrown in solitary confinement and threatened with years in prison. This relentless persecution of him and his family at the hand of government agencies brought immense pain in their lives. Despite the pressure, Aaron refused to cut a deal with government prosecutors. The court found him guilty of thirteen felonies under US law and charged him with 35 years in prison.
Before the court judgment could have been executed to the government’s liking, on January 11, 2013 Aaron Swartz committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment. What followed the next day was never seen before, the Internet just lit up with the millions outpouring in grief. Everybody tried to express in their own way. Frustration and anger are the two words that pop into my mind to describe the aftermath.
All that he wanted was to make the world a better place but the brain dead US government (in my opinion) had something else in mind. For Aaron the notion that Change can occur by itself while we rest in peace was damned as for him the only way to truly achieve change was the path of constant struggle. On August 3, 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet’s Hall of Fame alongside giants like WWW. founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee. To sum it all up in his words:
Aaron is dead.
Wanderers in this crazy world,
We have lost a mentor, a wise elder.
Hackers for right, we are one down,
Nurturers, carers, listeners,
Feeders, parents all,
We have lost a child.
Let us all weep.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee
(January 11, 2013)