I had the sad honor of being invited to make a few remarks at Aaron Swartz’s memorial gathering in New York City yesterday. Aaron hung himself rather than face a future labeled as a felon for liberating a bunch of academic articles that he believed belonged to humankind. Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, and Larry Lessig at LessigBlog2.0 and DemocracyNow! and a dozen others that Google will find have told the details and the context.
My job was to introduce a video of excerpts from Aaron’s speech at F2C: Freedom to Connect 2012. Here are my remarks, more or less as I delivered them:
I can’t even remember the first time I met Aaron. He was just there in the same community I was. This community.
I got joined to this community when I was at AT&T Bell Labs in the mid 90s and I wrote an essay called “The Rise of the Stupid Network.” The essay tried to tell AT&T that the Internet would shift control of the network from them — the telephone and cable companies — to us. The essay “went viral on the Internet” before most of us knew what “going viral” was. Soon “The Rise of the Stupid Network” was such an embarrassment to AT&T that I lost my job.
Over the next few years the telephone companies and cable companies and their allies got what I had been trying to say. They waged war to thwart regulation, beat down competition and distort the law to keep the Internet — which is to say the shift of control from them to us — from happening. Aaron died in that war.
In 2004 I organized a conference to give voice to our side of this war called F2C: Freedom to Connect. Last year I invited Aaron to speak at F2C: Freedom to Connect. He asked me what what to talk about. Knowing Aaron, I told him, “Anything you want.” But I told him, “Really work on it. Give the speech of your life.” As you will see, or maybe you’ve already seen the speech he gave on line, he did that.
A few days before last year’s F2C: Freedom to Connect, Aaron briefed me on what he was going to say. I was surprised that he didn’t mention his own JSTOR fight. I said, “Aren’t you going to talk about that?” And he said, “No.”
No. Aaron wanted to talk about the big fight to make the world a better place. I am afraid Aaron’s legacy will be dumbed down to “hacker” or “copyfighter” the way the media dumbed down the SOPA fight to “Google versus the telephone companies.” Let’s not forget that Aaron fought the bigger fight, the fight for access, for justice, for democracy, for us. And not just for us in THIS community, but for all of us.
Here are some excerpts of his F2C: Freedom to Connect speech. As you’ll see Aaron actually says it better than I could, so over to you, Aaron.
DO NOT rest in peace Aaron. May your memory, and the work you’ve done so far continue to give ’em hell.