Remembering Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference in 2011.

Aaron Swartz speaks at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference, October 2011

We were deeply saddened to learn this weekend of the passing of Aaron Swartz: a friend, fighter, and spark of brilliance.

Many of us at Access knew Aaron well–we were lucky enough to share an office with him for a chunk of time between 2011 and 2012. We’d find him there, in front of a spread of screens–in late, in early, and sometimes not at all. His unpredictable and irrepressible approach to life–and his life’s work–was one of his most defining characteristics.

Another was his generosity. It was one of the things I experienced upon meeting him. The first time we met was in Budapest back in 2010 –he came directly up to me and said, “I’ve heard about what you’re doing. I want to talk to you about me setting up a technology advisory board.”

He was looking out for us before we even knew who he was.

Although he consorted with giants, in Aaron’s eyes, we were all equals in the cause. A few months back, I was debating the value of joining a working group on the future of the Internet. When I consulted Aaron, he asked me who else was on it. I mentioned a few names.

“Well, why don’t I just ask Tim if its worth joining?”

“Tim?” I asked.

“Berners-Lee.” Oh. You mean, the founder of the World Wide Web. Yep, he’d probably know.

Aaron was a visionary who understood not only how things worked, but why. He brought a habit of restless inquiry to much that he did, from building revolutionary standards to building revolutionary movements.

In 2011, we asked him to help us by putting together a panel on “The Politics of Internet Freedom” at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference. He did it with three emails. No one he asked said “no”, because everyone knew that Aaron understood the politics of the internet at a visceral level. It was hard-coded into who he was.

His unique grasp of the issues meant that he was also adept at influencing those politics. From his founding of Demand Progress, to his work on SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and the ITU, he was one of our greatest allies in the fight for a free and open Internet. He knew it was an essential part of a fairer and more just world.

We wish to extend our support and sympathies to Aaron’s partner Taren, his family, colleagues, and friends. He is already sorely missed.

Many of us know about the isolation and depression that is sadly common among individuals in our sector, as well as the paucity of support that is currently available. We commit to working with others to address this problem and will contribute as we can to making a more connected, accepting, and supportive working environment.