A tribute to Aaron Swartz and a comment on women activists

I am touched and inspired by the outpouring of emotion following the tragic death of Aaron Swartz. His life and activities have affected many. I am most familiar with Aaron Swartz through two of his works of activism: the PACER document release, an action that I strongly support, and his download of JSTOR files, an action that I sympathize with.

Aaron Swartz at SILS

Aaron Swartz at SILS

I am touched and inspired by the number of tributes I have seen friends post on Facebook and Twitter. At SILS, we well remember Aaron’s visit to the student association, SILSSA, back in the 2006/7 academic year. I had no idea how many people looked up to him.

I am touched and inspired by the way Aaron’s death reached beyond the circles of free information enthusiasts. The New York Times online reported on his death in detail on the front page (or front screen, as the case may be). The On the Media coverage was equally dignified.

I am touched and inspired after listening for two and a half hours to the live streaming of the memorial to Aaron Swartz organized by Democracy Now!. I am not quite sure how many speakers there were, but my guess is between 10-15. Each and every one of the tributes is worth listening to; don’t skip a single one. Aaron’s scope of activity, and the personality he had to match, require this many people to tell his story.

I am touched and inspired by the words of Roy Singham (and I apologize, but as of this writing there are no minute breakdowns in the recording of the memorial, and you’ll have to watch it all to find any one speaker), whose j’accuse words generated positive action from anger toward the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.

I am touched and inspired by all the tributes paid in the memorial and am in awe of Aaron Swartz and his commitment to First Amendment Rights. I urge you to watch the entire (2.5 hour) recording. Due to the inability to pause-and-play right now, I am refraining from writing a more detailed review.

I am touched and inspired by the words of Quinn Norton and Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, the only women among the speakers. Both are personal friends, the first a former partner and the second his current partner and an activist in her own right. The words were personal and moving and they both, particularly Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, addressed his civic activities as well.
And while I would not have omitted any of the speakers, I can’t help but wonder at the lack of women among them. Are there no women active among access rights, or did Aaron Swartz not work with them? Some who come to mind are Patrice McDermott from Open the Government, danah boyd, who paid a very nice tribute to Aaron on her blog , Melissa Hagemann from the Open Society Foundations , and Kathleen Fitzpatrick of MLA. This absence of women saddens me and I am not aware of any women, Aaron’s age or younger, who are taking on these activities—though correct me if I am wrong, and send me names.

I am touched and inspired by the work of Aaron Swartz and he will continue to inspire and inform my own work for many years to come.
I will end with a quote from an essay titled When is Transparency Useful? that Aaron Swartz wrote and that was made freely available to the public by the publisher, O’Reilly, in tribute to him.

I suspect few people would put “publishing government documents on the Web” high on their list of political priorities, but it’s a fairly cheap project (just throw piles of stuff into scanners) and doesn’t seem to have much downside. The biggest concern—privacy —seems mostly taken care of. In the United States, FOIA and the Privacy Act (PA) provide fairly clear guidelines for how to ensure disclosure while protecting people’s privacy.


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