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[liberationtech] Who killed Aaron Swartz?

Yosem Companys companys at
Wed Jan 16 14:27:03 PST 2013

One problem is activists don't have the resources of large corporations to
keep track of all the legal implications of their work.  This is where
great organizations like EFF come in.  To sustain activism, we need an
infrastructure that supports it by reducing the costs of things that
activists must do (legal & financial stuff) but that are distracting to the
main task of promoting social change.

On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 2:09 PM, Andrew Lewis <me at> wrote:

> Recently I was facing what I felt was a similar situation, and the
> throughly process I used was not how it would affect my work, but quality
> of life issues around being confined and then a felon the rest of your
> life.
> Andrew
> On Jan 17, 2013, at 11:03 AM, Shava Nerad <shava23 at> wrote:
> Aaron's parents have implicated the prosecutors and MIT in Aaron's death,
> and I don't mean to disrespect them in this, but I'd like to speculate a
> little more on all of this, because I've been plagued a bit by this for
> days.
> It churns my stomach to think that part of what went into Aaron's thoughts
> on his death might be a media calculation -- he was so good with that sort
> of thing -- that his work would benefit better from his death than from his
> life at this point in time.
> And that really does make me feel ill, literally.  That part of that
> decision might have been coldly rational, not entirely out of depression,
> but actually looking at the media map of his work, how the feds were going
> to work to discredit him and the movement, and where the tipping point
> might have been -- not knowing exactly what the spin the feds might have
> had to control the media circus at their end.
> But think about the parallels on say, Tarek Mehanna (
> who was convicted for "material
> support" to terrorism for translating web pages from Arabic to English,
> 17.5 years of hard time, felony terrorism charges.  I have no doubt that
> the charges against Aaron could be made to stick, much to the harm to
> hacker culture and so on.
> I can simulate that in my head.  Can y'all?  Aaron thinking about the harm
> done to the cause he cares about if this comes to court vs. if he martyrs
> himself now?
> I am in a very very dark mood myself.  Not in any danger of suicide --
> thanks if any are concerned -- but in the mood to organize and teach and
> take these people down a few pegs before more young people fall.  We need
> to get out of our desk chairs a bit more, don't you think?  Just a bit?
>  And show that we are not so laughably easy targets, or we will be taken
> down like this, one by one, unless we can show that we can work the system
> in a way that is effective.
> And I'm afraid that does not mean filing internet petitions to have people
> removed from office.  It means working social capital within the system,
> working with groups that have that kind of social capital already (some of
> our groups in DC have those "ins" like EFF, or even Tor when I was there;
> not so much now, CDT perhaps, some of the larger foundations have good
> connections).  It means playing politics.
> It means doing the righteous good nonprofit side of lobbying that doesn't
> pay off Congress but really does educate them and petition them for redress
> of grievances -- work I've done on behalf of digital divide interests, and
> hardly anyone does any more -- you don't even hear the word "lobbyist" used
> that way any more although it's the original definition of the word.
> And all of these things can be done *facilitated* by technology but by GOD
> they have to be done face to face and they need money and they require
> bodies willing to take risks and get out from behind the keyboard and to do
> those ikky things like deal with politicians and compromises and ikky
> people your friends think have "germs" and aren't part of the cool kids.
> And when you go to parties, people will think you are too sincere about
> your work, make too little money, and are obviously making bad decisions,
> and are probably a little paranoid about life because you are dealing with
> all these things that involve stuff they'd just rather not hear about.
> (Which is, by the way, very much like what military people feel like among
> civilians, who they also believe they are in the business of protecting.)
> We are in the business of watching the watchers.  Of safeguarding justice
> and liberties.  That is what I believe.  And although some of you are
> academics, and study this from offices where you write reports on some of
> us, some of us are hybrids or activists, and we are on the line, and likely
> to have shorter less pleasant lives.  It makes for an interesting little
> social dynamic here.
> Titularly, I am supposed to be pleasant about this, because often enough,
> activists are petitioning the people reading this list who are not
> activists for support, places to publish, or grants or recommendations.
>  But mostly these days I am retired, so I get to be a bit of the crone
> goddess of this list.  It's a bit like having tenure in a way.
> It can seem very frustrating to those of us in the field to see so many so
> totally risk averse, where "support" means nothing more than to publish a
> blog article, signing an ineffective petition, or symbolically rsvp YES to
> an event with no intent to attend, or send a few dollars to MoveOn when
> MoveOn does very little except continue MoveOn's work of continuing
> MoveOn's work of continuing MoveOn's work.
> But when it comes to attending a meeting, taking an action that would
> disrupt a routine or risk a blot on an otherwise spotless permanent record,
> leaving a comfort zone or even a living room, or working with strangers on
> a project where the suffering-fools-gladly nerves might be a bit abraded --
> idealism goes quickly into the crapper.
> Most people want to *think* of themselves as idealists and in favor of
> social change.  And if someone like Anonymous tells them "Push this button
> on this HUD and you can change the world!" they will, without question
> (which scares the crap out of me).  But if they have to actually work to
> deal with unfamiliar things and unfamiliar people and more evident risks to
> change the world, they quickly withdrawal, because it is outside their
> comfort zones.
> And unless we can solve that with liberation technologies -- as apparently
> Anonymous has, through sheer coyote duplicity -- we can't solve problems
> such as those that led to Aaron's suicide, or solve those that we are faced
> with to prevent the next one, or to continue his work effectively.
> Because this is an asymmetrical war, and the liberation technologies we
> have do not stack up to the arsenal of government, and never have.  We will
> always have to supplement them with people power on the ground, with
> politics, with human organizing.  I can't see the way around that.  And
> online means are only seducing people away from effective engagement in the
> real world at this point.  Morosov and Putnam have us by the short hairs
> and we have yet to answer them effectively.
> Who killed Aaron Swartz?  Maybe in a way it was all of us, too.  Because
> all of us contribute to the environment where -- if I'm right and he might
> have calculated his media impact -- the government could credibly destroy
> his work and the movement around it in the popular press around his trial,
> and he knew that none of us could counter it or save him.
> I can teach people to be clever and full of tricks -- but I can teach,
> what, fifteen, thirty at a time at most?  How deep?  How long?  Teaching
> people skills has never been well adapted to automation; ymmv.  I could
> teach a couple in depth as shadows, padawans.  Most of us are not even
> doing that (I'm not, now -- I don't even have funding for me, much less for
> me and staff or teaching).
> So where do we go with this?  Where have intellectuals ever gone with
> this?  Isn't this, dare I say, a perennial problem?
> yrs,
> --
> Shava Nerad
> shava23 at
> --
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