Aaron Swartz. (Creative Commons.)
This past Monday saw an extraordinary gathering of the progressive and not-so-progressive tribes: the Washington, DC, memorial service for Aaron Swartz (whose passing I recognized here)—“somber in tone,” a friend, Noland Chambliss, who was there reported back to me, “and despite the political bent, and the focus on laws and policies, still very much a memorial, full of grieving.” Noland began his account with a caveat: “I didn’t know Aaron well. We had mutual friends and I would occasionally see him at a party or a conference. Our only real conversation was in a shared cab. He had seen Van Jones’s presentation calling for more powerful, emotional communicators making the progressive argument”—Noland was involved in conceptualizing Jones’s group Rebuild the Dream—“and Aaron hoped that his friend Ben Wikler would step into that role. We talked about what it would take to talk about the issues we cared about in a more compelling way.”
Wikler, reports Noland, was the memorial’s MC:
speaking in short bursts between the others, alternately funny and grave. It was a strange gathering all around, the crowd a mix of progressive activists and internet freedom folks, Hill staffers for various Representatives present (from both sides of the aisle), and friends and family of Aaron’s. Ben was probably the only person who could have pulled it off, helping to weave together remembrances about Aaron’s personal life, reflections on how society treats our brightest minds, and scathing critiques of our criminal justice system.
One of the curious things about the service was the presence of Darrell Issa, the California congressman whose scabrous helming of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—Ground Zero for opportunistic attempts to delegitimate the Obama White House and liberal governance generally—reminds some, including me, of a latter-day Joseph McCarthy. But Issa worked on the same side with Aaron in defeating SOPA, the “Stop Internet Piracy Act,” and has been at the forefront of calling for accountability in the runaway prosecution against him. Cynically? Sincerely? Here’s Noland:
When Issa spoke he pushed it a bit. He opened with a bit about how he and Aaron both knew that it was “In God We Trust” not “In the Government We Trust.” [Note: Aaron was an atheist.] It was tense for a moment, like… if this guy decides to use this as an opportunity to tell us about how the government is overbearing and awful someone might stand up and start swinging. But he didn’t, he waved at the line but didn’t cross it, didn’t even get too close in my opinion.