On losing Aaron Swartz

Like many of you, I’ve been reeling for the last two days over Aaron’s death.  I learned about it at 4 in the morning on Saturday, when I checked my messages during a restless night.  And then throughout the day, seeing the way friends and family processed his death, in long emails and beautiful memorial posts.

The thing about suicide is that it seems tragic but it also seems preventable.  I toy with it again and again in my head, unable to let it rest, unable to turn away from it, wondering: what could we have done differently? What could I have done differently?

I will always regret not doing more for Aaron when he was here. More to show him how deeply he affected my life and the lives of dozens if not hundreds of digital rights activists, the way he made the Internet a better place for millions of people. I will always deeply regret not rushing to his aid in whatever way possible when he was under a legal attack that could have sent him to prison for decades. And I regret that I never told him how inspired and impressed I was by his work to bring the public access to knowledge, how vital he was to the movement and to our successes. That I thought he was brave, a trait that so many other smart and ethical people lack.

We get so busy working, fighting one unending and difficult battle after another, that we forget to turn and thank the people bringing up the left flank. And now Aaron’s gone and it’s like a light has gone out, a force of energy and creativity and brilliance.

We should have had another fifty years of Aaron Swartz. We should have had another fifty years of his creativity and his commitment to justice, another fifty years of being inspired and impressed and delighted by everything he did.

There’s another piece of this – the piece where I roll up my sleeves and figure out what productive thing I can take away from this, where I commit myself to doing more good in the world to make up for all the good Aaron won’t be doing. Where I promise myself that I’ll never turn away from doing the right thing just because I’m busy, and I start working to fix the broken system that was used against Aaron. And that piece will come, but it will have to come tomorrow, because today all I have is layers and layers of grief.

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