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Swartz Fought for Us

By Maria-Pia Boëthius.


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Unlike Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Gates, Aaron Swartz used his talent for the public good and totally ignored his chance to make money.

On Friday 14 January 2013, the young hacker activist took his own life in his flat in New York City. He was only 26 years old. It was only a few weeks until his trial was to begin. Aaron's 'crime' could have led to 35 years in prison and a million dollar fine.

Aaron was a lovely man. At 14 he was already a computer genius. But unlike Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Gates, he used his talent for the common good and totally ignored his own chance to profit. He could have been a billionaire, but instead he used his talent to make the world a better place.

27 year old Jeremy Hammond, the 'electronic Robin Hood', has been sitting in a Chicago prison for the past ten months without trial. He's looking at life behind bars.

25 year old Bradley Manning is sitting in another cell in the US. He's thought to be the one who leaked the horrific video of the US helicopter killings in Baghdad and other materials to WikiLeaks. Manning's now been sitting in prison for almost three years without trial, and he was treated so harshly by the military that a ruling is now in place so that his sentence, if he gets one, must be reduced as a consequence. All the while right wing voices still clamour for the death penalty.

And 41 year old WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sits in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, resisting attempts to extradite him to Sweden.

Aaron Swartz, whose accomplishments (Aavaz, Reddit, et al - his lectures are available online) are too numerous to mention, accessed JSTOR and with a plan to make the research papers found there available to everybody. University research is public work and it belongs to the public, he reasoned. Such work should not be made available only to those who can afford to pay. That work belongs to everybody and it's usually funded out of public funds as well.

For his admirable deed, Swartz risked 35 years in prison and a draconian fine. Now he's hanged himself.

Jeremy Hammond hacked into the private global intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor). He also nicked a lot of credit card information on the premise that one should take a little from the rich to fund activism. And for this he risks his life today. Hammond's IQ is 167, says his mother, who thinks he doesn't seem particularly wise. Oh no?

These activists are the vanguard in a fight for our future. For the ability of the Internet to serve the people and serve democracy, rather than becoming yet another tool for power and big money. They're fighting for our sake, wrestling for control of the Internet for us. I can't say as I understand all of what they do, but it'd never occur to me to condemn them. I've lived long enough to have learned that what today is called a 'crime' can by tomorrow turn out to have been an indispensable prank to change our world for the better.

And not a one of them ever engages in violence. This is civil electronic disobedience. The powers that be seem however to be prepared to use any means at their disposal to stop them. And the mainstream media? They go along with portraying these nonviolent freedom fighters as criminals?

WikiLeaks is a major threat to established journalism - they exposed an entire world of media silence, of pacts between the established media and the powers that be - something that the journalists, who feed on the notion that they somehow represent truth and keep power in check, have a difficult time forgiving. For the betrayal of journalism was too obvious. 'Don't touch my lifelong lies!'

There are few more sensitive topics in the Swedish left or feminism than Julian Assange. The idea seems to be that because he's accused of sexual assault in Sweden, it's not possible to stand by him on other issues. He's done for on all fronts. But I don't agree. When I read about the two Swedes who under very questionable circumstances were extradited from Djibouti to the US, I think Assange's fear of coming to Sweden and taking part in an investigation turns from paranoia into something rather easy to understand. The spittle from the Swedish media turns nasty, for they want to still think that Sweden is 'somehow different'.

But if you look at what's already been done to Jeremy Hammond and Bradley Manning, if you look at what they had planned for Aaron Swartz before he hanged himself, if you look at how the FBI bought Sabu (Hector Xavier Monsegur) who was intimidated into turning informer, something that led to the arrests of six net activists, one of which was Jeremy Hammond - and when you already know about Carl Bildt's close ties to the US (we have the world's only privatised foreign policy for a democratic country) then you can't wonder anymore.

Nor would I have gone to Sweden if I were Julian Assange and feared I'd be rendered to the US where net activists are subjected to severe rights abuses.

Aaron Swartz reminds me of Jan Palach who at 20 years of age in 1969 burned himself to death in protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. And Mohamed Bouazizi who at the age of 28 killed himself in Tunisia because the powers that be had humiliated him beyond the point of no return.

Aaron's professor at Harvard had an enormous respect for his pupil and wrote that Aaron is an icon. They used to be called martyrs. Never mind what it's called - I'll never forget Aaron and I will always try to act in his spirit.

Born 9 October 1947, Maria-Pia Boëthius is an author, journalist, and former columnist for Expressen 1968-1978. Boëthius has been highly critical of Swedish mainstream media, calling them 'an occupational force'. She believes the integrity of journalists is jeopardised by economic interests, which lead to reporting that's populistic, and she believes Swedish media have therefore created a 'consensus' atmosphere.

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