On Friday, programmer and activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide. Today, as friends and family gather for his funeral, we are releasing the following statement on his passing:
“Today is the funeral of Aaron Swartz, who contributed so much to the launch of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and our technology during our first 20 months, from January 2009 to August 2010. Aaron joined our PCCC team with the goal of learning about effective online activism and went on to play an instrumental role in the fight for Wall Street reform and against SOPA. His suicide followed an over-zealous prosecution for a crime with no victims — by a Justice Department that has yet to prosecute the Wall Street bankers who destroyed our economy and harmed millions of lives. Our hearts go out to Aaron’s family and partner.
Aaron’s funeral will be held at 10am central at Highland Park Chabad Synagogue, 874 Central Avenue, Highland Park, Illinois 60035.
The Chicago Sun-Times quotes Swartz’s father on his death:
Aaron Swartz was “killed by the government,” his father, Robert Swartz said at a memorial service Tuesday morning for the 26-year-old tech genius who killed himself in the face of felony charges he’d stolen millions of files from MIT.
Swartz said his son was “hounded by the government, and MIT refused him.”
“He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles,” he said.
The Associated Press quotes Tim Berners-Lee:
Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the World Wide Web, and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, director of the Safra Center for Ethics where Swartz was once a fellow, both spoke at the funeral.
‘‘We felt the indictment was nonsense and that he would be acquitted,’’ Berners-Lee told the newspaper after the service.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig and activist Ben Wikler have graciously given us permission to publish their remarks from Aaron’s funeral:
Lawrence Lessig: So Aaron would’ve wanted a slideshow (audience laughter) and I made him one and it’s the best slideshow I’ve ever made in my whole life. Only he and I will get a chance to see this one. So I was on a television show yesterday talking about Aaron and the woman who introduced me said I’ve had a more than decade-long mentorship with him. And that was him. I had a decade-long mentorship. And Aaron was the mentor, and I was the mentee. You laugh, but everyone who knows Aaron knows that’s precisely true. Precisely true. From the youngest age, his life has been about teaching us. Never telling, never telling, never lecturing. If anything, only asking a simple question…As a father, with two young children, I wanted to comment to Aaron’s parents and hold them and say how did you do it? How did you do it? How did you make this sweet brilliant boy who only ever asked how do I make the world better? How did you do it? I knew there had to be a secret potion and it was probably patented and I didn’t have (audience laughter) the most I could do is to bring him to my family, to bring him to my children, for my children to see Aaron, to love him, to love him as they did, and they can’t understand why he won’t come back. And we all know he acted his age at times. All of us had an experience of Aaron acting his age. Liberating moments, when he did that, to imagine this old wise soul could actually be 14, or 16, or 18, or 20. Two years ago he acted his age when he wrote a blog post that accused an important funder of a project I was working on of being a murderer (audience laughter) Four days later I finally brought him into my office… I asked him what are you doing? It hit him. Later that day he wrote me an email and he said, I come away from our conversation deeply haunted by the notion that I did something that might have hurt you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. There are few people in this world I have as much affection and respect for, putting aside the extraordinary gratitude to, I am sorry over the overzealous attempt to maintain my independence. I have been bad at making that clear. When I read that, I was a little angry, because I thought geeze, I wanted you to still be the twenty-something year old, not the wise soul apologizing to me in the best possible way. But that’s who he was. And they say he was also depressed. And that frustrates me. Was he depressed because he didn’t have loving parents? No. He had the most devoted, loving parents a boy could have. Because he didn’t have a loving partner or friends in New York who were with him every day? No, he had everything a boy could want. Aaron was depressed because God is depressed. Look at this world and what we have done and who wouldn’t be depressed? And Aaron was depressed because of where he was. The man he helped elect appointed a U.S. Attorney who could utter the idiocy there’s no difference between stealing with computer and stealing with a crow bar. The woman obviously knew nothing about computers or crow bars (audience laughter). Or a prosecutor who, when Aaron’s lawyer pleaded with him begging him to recognize his particular vulnerability including his vulnerability over his own life, said fine I’ll protect him, I’ll lock him up. He was depressed because he recognized the dependence his position was going to create on all sorts of other people. He was depressed, and we should be depressed because this is the world we gave him. And this is the world he tried to change. Now all of us look at an extraordinary outpouring of love, there have be billions of utterances of love and praise. And that’s critical, and that’s important. That level of anger and frustration as people say, as people say of those close to him why didn’t you do more? And they mean that as a criticism. But those of us close to him have said that it’s the truth about our love, we could’ve done more, all of us. That’s what Aaron was constantly reminding us always teaching us, we could’ve done more, we haven’t done enough. After Aaron wrote me that apology I spent hours writing an angry response. And then I threw it away, and I wrote a single line and said, “Peace, friend, all OK.” And when I re-read that email last night…what if he sent us an email four days after his mistake? I think it would sound very similar to the one he sent me. I think he’d say I came away from my service today deeply haunted by the notion that I did something that might’ve hurt you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. You are the people in this world I have affection or respect for. I am sorry if in my overzealous attempt to remain my independence, I have been bad. Making that clear. Peace, friend. Peace, friend…Sweet, beautiful boy. Peace. It’s not okay. It’s not okay. We will make it better. All of us. In your name, Aaron. In your name, Aaron Swartz, we will make it better.
Ben Wikler: In a small room with white walls, and a folding chair and a sagging card table, there was a door that was always open. And on the door was an XKCD cartoon. I remember coming home to the apartment and looking at it, and saying, what happened? And the person inside the apartment said, I filled the apartment with playpen balls. Turned it into a ball pit like you’d find at a McDonalds. And I looked and said, Why? And the person inside the apartment said the apartment, because we’re grown ups now, and it’s our turn to decide what that means. For Aaron, the world was a huge ball pit that he could dive into. He pulled us all into. And in that little office, that had cracks and holes in the wall, and was in a dingy house that a left-wing activist was renting out to activist groups so they could work together, and meet eachother, I worked in the room adjoining his. I don’t think he would ever notice the mice that would skitter between our different offices. He was the prototypical young dot-com millionaire, of course. I don’t think he’d ever notice the mice, but he’d hear my voice, because there was absolutely no sound protection, so I was talking on conference calls for hours and he’d hear everything that was happening in my work in my life in my field, and typically for Aaron he’d find out more about my life than I know about his, but he’d also know more about my work than I know about mine. And the office is where we developed, where spring forth, what was for me an epic man crush with Aaron. He and I would start talking and we just couldn’t stop. For some reason I had a mini, a little tiny car, and I would try to drive him home. Because he always in the middle of Boston winters, he’d run to the office without a coat. He would just wear his t-shirt. He’d always forget his glasses so if you found him in his office, he would be hunched over the computer speech an inch away from his face, his hands a blur. By the way, if I ever drove him home we’d wind up sitting out in the car outside of my apartment talking and talking…and inevitably I’d say why oh boy don’t you just come in and have dinner with us. He’d come in, eat with us….We’d decide to go somewhere and we’d wind up talking until, you know, 3 or 4 am imagining what we wanted to do in the world. One story that captivated him early on, he was this incredible activist, but he was this rare activist who’s not ideological. He approached changing the world like a social scientist and a computer scientist. He wanted to experiment with tasks, come up with hypotheses and then disprove them. Keeping with this Aaron got smarter and smarter. We were talking about public opinion polling. I told him about a friend who had figured a way to do really good computer-driven robo-calls. Which were much cheaper than hiring people to make telephone calls. So she could run hundreds of calls and figure out things that no one else could figure out. He was fascinated about this. And he wanted to meet her. So I introduced him to Terran. Then he built his own robo-call. And one thing we often did was, something about Aaron, is he would come up with an idea, decide it was a good idea, and then do it immediately. Which sometimes was very problematic. But was often great. He, one day, during the Wisconsin labor protests, we were talking about it and we started getting excited and wanted to go there, but we hadn’t sort of figured out a plan. So what we decided to do was take a cab to the airport, and get to the airport and see if there were flights available to Madison (laughter) And if there was a good flight that was relatively cheap and we could sit next to eachother, then we’d buy the ticket and go. Which we did. And then once we’re on the plane, we asked what should we pack? (laughter) Another adventure was going to the Democratic National Committee headquarters to help during the last portion of the 2010 elections. We showed up, both of us were sick, it was completely crazy. We drived this team that was organizing people…in areas to call voters in key districts to get them to the polls. And the person running the team to do this project was Taren. And Aaron started looking at the software and thought this is, come on. And in a few hours re-wrote the user interface, changed the outlook. That wasn’t a great election for Aaron but he did more in less time than anyone I can think of….He had this impish gleeful sense of joy and exuberance that was infectious to everyone around him. He was so good at solving so many big impossible problems and so bad at solving the little ones in his own life. (crowd laughter, inaudible) who he loved so much said he should get laser surgery. And he said no, lasers are supposed to come out of your eyes (crowd laughter). He reminded me so much of Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. Both in his joy and his cannonball approach…and also in his incredible obstinacy And he, he made us all want to live the way that he lived. He made us all want to be curious about everything. And he made us all want to live always in accordance with our principles. He challenged us so much, demanded so much of us. Certainly by argument, he was an incredible arguer. But even more powerfully by example. Aaron’s activism and his social change work and his engineering work and coding were all selfless and amazing. But I think the thing that I admired most about Aaron was that for somebody who had grown up so fast, in some ways, for somebody that had done so much so quickly, he was so humble and he was so committed to improving himself. He was so vulnerable and fragile and he put up shields in all the wrong places. He could be so private about things about things where we could’ve helped him. I only found out after his death for example that the reason why he was the pickiest eater I ever found in the universe was that he had a digestive disorder, and he couldn’t eat fruits or vegetables. But never wanted to talk about it. And relationships could be hard for him. People could be hard for him. This is a messy…world we live in. And for Aaron, Aaron’s comfortable knowing that his standards were too high even for himself to meet. So hard for him when he fell in love with someone or something, institution to discover the cracks in it, to see the holes in the wall. That has escalated in the last few years. He poured himself into this project of learning how to love and how to be loved. I saw that with Taren. I saw that with me. He would spend hours with me arguing when I was afraid of something I wanted to do. Just processing my fears with me, I’d learn how to transcrend them and how to do something bigger. He wrote this manifesto where he said, look up or think bigger. He didn’t give up on us. Part of what’s so painful about him is that, I think, a huge part of the burden he had was knowing that he needed to ask us all for help. That in a way what happened to him was matched in pain for him by the fact that he needed us all to step in. And I remember talking to him about this, I told him that for someone with such great vision about so much, one blind spot he had was how much he mattered. That we were delighted, that we took joy in helping him, being there for him. Being with him. And that’s what I want to tell him. Aaron took his life in another small room with white walls. He couldn’t hear our voices at that moment. That day, Taren was coming home to get him and bring him back over to our house for dinner. The baby probably would have been asleep. We became friends just before my wife and I became pregnant. He was with us all through the pregnancy, and when Mac (?) was born our son, I remember the first time he came over and held us. He was more terrified than I had ever seen him (laughter) he held this baby and he knew his head was wobbly and he held it up so it was basically like his entire body was devoted to holding up my baby’s head, but after those initial moments of fear, he got right up in mac’s face, right up to his face and started making these goofy huge faces. And Aaron had this very plastic face, I don’t know if you ever saw him making faces, but he got Mac laughing and Mac just fell in love with him. Now Mac’s only going to know him through stories. And then Mac will grow up in a world that Aaron won’t have the chance to fix. I think like so many of us it’s been hard to find words in these last few days in part because Aaron was so amazed with words that the people he spoke of with the most reverence in the world were Robert Caroll and Ira Glass. They were people who told stories. So I’ve been spending too much time on the Internet and I don’t make a weekend out of it like Aaron, and I found a blog post by someone who never met him and it was titled why am I so upset about Aaron Swartz’s suicide, and it’s by a software engineer, and after processing it for a while he wrote he thinks that it’s because he wishes he were Aaron. He said that I’ve never done anything that was selfless, that was just about me, that was about making the world a better place. I haven’t devoted my life to making the world better. And I’m so upset now. Because that’s what I want to be. Anonymous the hacking collective wrote a page they planted on MIT’s website: He was the best of us, may he yet bring out the best in us. And I don’t think any of us is capable, I don’t think all of us together are capable of doing what Aaron would’ve done in this world. But if there’s any tribute that we can make to him it’s to not forget that standard that he set for all of us. It’s to accept that we’ll never make it but never to give up trying. It’s to never be overcome by fear. It’s to remember the brilliance of his mind. And to try to walk in his path…We love you Aaron.