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Misc

I’m still mad about Aaron

A bunch of us are reading David Graeber’s Debt. In the course of preparing for our upcoming discussion, I started re-reading that amazing resource: Crooked Timber.

That reminded me that Aaron Swartz wrote a couple guest posts on Crooked Timber. I reread one of his essays. Then another. Then more. You can guess what happened next. DANG. What an amazing writer. What a thinker.

There’s no one I’ve met in my life that I was so sure would change the course of history. No one I’ve met that was so obviously, even qualitatively, smarter than me. For a while, it felt like every big project I joined, or every cool thing I tried, he was there first, and happened to (sometimes co-)found it.

I think about Aaron all the time. Even now, years later.

For a long time, he was my role model: clear moral compass, brilliant, a tech genius but at the same time rooted in movement work and so much more than “the computer guy”.

It’s weird when your role model used to be your boss, is the brother of a friend, the ex of your boss. It’s weird to have this role model be a real person.

I was so angry when he died. I went on, well, a rampage, for the next few years. I never forgave Obama, Eric Holder, Carmen Ortiz, Steve Heymann, MIT, and the Democratic Party in general. I talked about it as part of my personal life story on dates, organizing 1-1’s, etc. I grew close to the angry wing of the radical left. I traveled the country. I took jobs based on what I felt he would have wanted me to do. When I played role-playing games, I would make a character named “Aharon Schahor” to try to process things.

I still get angry about his death. I still tell people about it. I still tell people about how important he was to me. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers who happen catch me in a particular mood.

Once, to my horror and embarrassment, I realized that one of those strangers was his brother. Oops! Sorry Noah. I seriously didn’t know.

Sidebar — Babbling about Aaron helped a friend introduce me to Mek, though, so overall the “talk about your feelings” seems to be working for me.

I’m still mad.

PS — And of course, Chris Dodd, that scumbag, the villain in the SOPA/PIPA fight that Aaron won for us; Chris Dodd, who flat out lied about his revolving door plans; Christopher J “Waitress Sandwich” Dodd — that’s the guy that Biden is tapping to lead his VP search.

Categories
Misc

The Aaron I knew

I didn’t know Aaron too well in person – I don’t want to pretend we were best buddies or anything. Still, he knew my name enough to connect it to my face, and we moved in more than one of the same circles. I looked up to him.

I’ve known about Aaron for a long time. How could I not? I was there when he rewrote Reddit, over six years ago. I was a fan of Lawrence Lessig – Lessig was a fan (and mentor) of Aaron.

We first actually met through the PCCC – a new grassroots organizing outfit he co-founded with two others. I heard about the PCCC through my blogging life, but I decided I wanted to join up because Aaron was a co-founder. I was on the team when there were just 5 of us. I finally met Aaron at a retreat the PCCC held at the end of May. He didn’t say much at first (the night before when we were just hanging out). I mostly talked to his friend, Quinn Norton. She was full of interesting tales (the history of coffee! Breaking into buildings in San Francisco!) and just a really cool gal.

So exciting! I hung out with him, my friend Yale (who is a tech person similarly awed by Aaron), and Aaron’s brother Ben Swartz, who also went to Brandeis.

From time to time I would run into him at conferences. We’d exchange a few words. I asked him to be on the advisory board of my startup – he said first I had to “show him something impressive”. I never got the chance to do that.

But I think I knew Aaron best through his writing. It’s how so many of us can feel a close connection to him. His blogging wasn’t self-indulgent and vain. It was red-hot but cooly-considered thought. It was brilliant tempered with empathy and wisdom.

I bet I’ll refer to his writing for years to come.

Aaron was pretty much who I aspired to be. Tech-savvy but not bound by that culture. Progressive but not captured by the professional left. A fellow-traveler to many. A generous spirit. Always trying to figure out exactly how the world worked, then sharing what he found.

I’ll miss him so much.

Categories
Misc

Aaron

Dear Diary,

Aaron Swartz is dead but the world continues in its banality. Instagram photos on my feed. People pimping their articles. Don’t they know that Aaron is dead?

What the hell.

Aaron and I (and others) once hung out at Brandeis. We were watching the news reports of a petition delivery he did in Boston in support of something to do with appointing a Senator after Ted Kennedy died. Four or five of us, in a cramped dorm room at the Brandeis castle.

Aaron was also one of my bosses at the PCCC, though I only got to see him a few times in that capacity. He was obviously, well, everyone uses the world brilliant because it’s true. We’d have a discussion that was going in all different directions, and time and time again Aaron would ask a simple, insightful question that got right to the heart of the matter. It was a joy to work with him.

Aaron had reason to visit Brandeis – his brother Ben studied there as well. I’ll never forget that he was at my commencement for my MA (he was at commencement for Ben’s Bachelors’). About ten people ahead of me alphabetically didn’t up for their degrees, so I ended up hamming to the crowd and making several false starts on stage, etc. He sent me a tweet: “Very colorful. Congratulations.”

The rest I know about Aaron, I know from his public life. His wonderful blog posts. His instapaper shares. The projects he was working on. All that gave you a wonderful, oddly intimate look at the “public” Aaron. The Aaron I briefly met in person – he lived up to his legend. So sad he’s gone.