Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

E-Activism, Media, RIP

Discovering Swartz: A personal tribute


I live in Nigeria, but Aaron Swartz’s death holds a deep meaning for me. His short life. His suicide. Being a commons man. Being a programmer by profession and an activist by calling. There are many of us around the world who won’t understand why taking his life was a permanent alternative to decades in jail and $1m in fines.

I like how Lessig begins his tribute – “This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.”

Let me emphasize why Swartz’s life-cause means a lot to me. He knew that legal frameworks were not moral frameworks, that at a certain point in life we have to choose between being obedient and being ambitious. He was not afraid of sacrifices.

Swatz must have wanted to live longer than 26. But when the time came to choose between living bound and dying free…

He struggled with depression, wrote about it, did not overcome it.

As I turned the web over for any news I could find about him, all the details about his life and calling, his networks, everything Swatz, I chanced upon a manifesto – Guerilla Open Access Manifesto – he’d written.

In my country, too, there are those who want to keep public information to themselves. What do we do about them? How do we fight them? How do I access all the resolutions from the upper and lower legislative houses, for instance?

These are questions I hope to ask – and answer – in the coming weeks. I don’t want to be a false hero (one who is a hero because it is fashionable). I want to try to live what I profess. About publishing, for instance. This I will do because “without the animation of futurity, much of what we do and try to build can seem utterly meaningless.”

Swartz was animated about a future he might not have expected to see. I am, too.


(Photo credit: ragesoss via Flickr)

1 Comment

  1. Sokari

    I dont know much about Aaron Swartz but reading his thoughts on depression, illness it doesnt surprise me – the only surprise is there are not more suicides in an age where many of us live under constant public scrutiny subjected to ridicule as well as praise plus the work he was doing put him in direct confrontation with the law. He starts the last entry “I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping up with Bubble City” the online world is full of bubble and in some ways not reflective of the real struggles personal and professional which we all face. Reading this piece it is clear he is in a great deal of pain. I dont see cyberland as an honest space and really it can never compete with real life on that level. Its not a criticism just a fact of life. Some weeks ago a young woman was gang raped in a small US town. The rapists posted scenes on FB. Similarly the young man who was outed on Twitter [Tyler Clementi] who took his life. These are a few – I am sure there are many more public humiliations, and just the feeling that you are not able to keep up the face/work/ whatever is expected of you. Its about expectations – your own and other peoples. Aaron Swartz may have disagreed with my thoughts on this. But I completely agree with his ideas and ideal of an open internet – just that that requires responsibilities from us as citizens. We are not always kind to each other and sensitivity for some is a weakness whereas for me it is a source of our humanity. We are not always kind to ourselves and create expectations which we cannot achieve. As I learn more about this young man, I believe like Bradley Manning he is a hero in the fight against the totalitarian militarist state where everything is commodified and coded as our freedoms are continuously eroded a chip at a time. The prosecution against him was vicious, vindictive and shameful.

    And just to add the academic industrial complex is another arm of the coded and commodified state which is supposed to promote education yet prevents access to knowledge and information by charging ridiculous sums of money for journals etc