I had the pleasure of meeting Aaron not too long ago when he gave a talk in Atlanta about his part in the fight against SOPA. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, but I was certainly surprised when the quiet, approachable guy on the edge of everyone’s attention walked up to the front of the room and sat down in front of his laptop and a pair of computer speakers.
What followed was not the polished, confident talk from a person who enjoys bending other peoples beliefs to suit their own. Instead, what I heard was a humble, first person account of how some techies and an online petition managed to kick start a movement that eventually dominated the scheme put forth and backed by professional politicians.
It was a story of how the common peoples refusal to accept something they truly believed was wrong managed to achieve the impossible, overthrow Goliath, and overturn a government bill.
I left the room inspired. Here was someone that not only recognized the injustice going on in the world - which, sadly I feel, is rare enough these days - but he had actually done something about it! He had made a difference, and so could I.
That night I thought about all the ways I could help make a difference. Writing software, articles, even just signing online petitions - no matter how small the contribution, at least I would be helping make a difference. And if I did my part, maybe one day I could also overthrow Goliath.
Sadly though, my part in this story picks up a few months later, yesterday, when I lazily rolled out of bed, scanned the headlines on my phone, and saw that my idol Aaron Swartz was dead.
Would Aaron be with us now if I had signed a petition or two, or written a post about how wrong it was for him to be perused with felony charges for a victimless crime? Probably not. If I and everyone who knew of him had done so? Possibly, but again, probably not. No one will ever know for sure.
But what I do know is this; if everyone in this world was like Aaron Swartz, if everyone fought against what they believe to be wrong with the uncompromising idealism that Aaron had, a government persecution of the likes he was facing would have been stopped dead in its tracks before it even got off the ground.
Online petitions would have been made and signed with fury, people everywhere would stop what they were doing, march into the streets, and demand some common sense from the organization that ultimately represents the will of our society. Because, as Aaron understood all too well, the government, in the end, answers to us.
But first we have to speak.
So while it may be easy to blame the government for Aaron’s death, I would urge you to go further, as I believe Aaron would have done. I urge you to act, as Aaron would have acted, and do not accept government actions that go against what we all believe is right!
I am not going to tell you what I think you should do next - except to follow, and act, on your own beliefs. I did not know Aaron well, but I know he would have done that much at least. So lets keep his memory and spirit alive, and use our lives to make the world a better place - the way he did with his.