We are all Aaron Swartz

“I know well that old industry and government bureaucracies who see the open Internet as a threat can act as bullies to those who take a stand for the values Aaron stood for. If nothing else, Aaron's death brings into focus how out of step those bureaucracies are with modern social realities,” said executive director of OpenMedia.ca, Steve Anderson.

"We are all Aaron Swartz," writes a French admirer, Laurent Durand, on the Remember Aaron Swartz Web page (http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/).

The death of Aaron Swartz, who revolutionized the Internet's capacity to empower and inform dissidents from China to the Middle East with RSS and Reddit, has international digital activists declaring “We are all Aaron” in the fight for a free Internet – at a time when Canada's own Open Media movement is entrenched in a battle against the repression of Online freedoms. 

Swartz, 26, committed suicide Saturday, weeks before he was slated to stand trial for allegedly downloading millions of academic articles illegally from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) subscription service JSTOR to make them available to the public. 

A key proponent of the movement against the US Congress' largely unpopular Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which analysts say would have drastically restricted the nation's Internet freedoms, Swartz was up against what his family and colleagues have qualified as “prosecutorial overreach,” pouring energy and funds into a ferocious legal battle.

An Online petition to the White House demands US District Attorney Carmen Ortiz step down for her role in the case against Swartz. 

“It was clear this case was not easy for him. He had spent almost almost two years with this hanging over his head and had spent a significant amount of money. And he had to make his social justice work about himself, which was visibly uncomfortable for him,” said Matthew Palevsky, Swartz's colleague in the initiative started against his trial called Save Aaron: Nerdity is not a crime.

Palevsky spoke to The Vancouver Observer the night before flying from New York to Chicago for Swartz's funeral Tuesday. 

Canada's own free Internet movement believes the events that led Swartz to kill himself weren't only about JSTOR articles. 

“I know well that old industry and government bureaucracies who see the open Internet as a threat can act as bullies to those who take a stand for the values Aaron stood for. If nothing else, Aaron's death brings into focus how out of step those bureaucracies are with modern social realities,” said executive director of OpenMedia.ca, Steve Anderson.

Popular movements of Swartz's past, present and future

As friends and relatives prepare for his funeral, it seems IT industry big names and digital activists are already mapping out Swartz's legacy.

“His act reminds me of the act of a Tunisian who was so desperate in fighting an unfair system that he set himself on fire,” said Silicon Valley-based Tunisian-American eBay executive Sami Ben Romdhane, referring to the martyr that launched the ongoing Arab Revolutions, Mohammed Bouazizi, also 26 when he committed suicide.

“He started what ended up being called the Arab Spring revolution that used the Net as a main weapon, and it had such impact and was efficient because people like Aaron made it possible.” 

The RSS that Swartz co-developed was what allowed Tunisians to spread revolutionary information and rise up.

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