I was very sad (irrationally so, as I spend way too much time preparing for talks) that the AV wizards didn’t have audio during my talk at Aaron’s DC Memorial Monday. Nonetheless, the event was amazing, and you should watch the other talks — especially by the conservatives. Issa’s words promise something important (the only one to talk about copyright). I was very encouraged by the event.
But the one thing that struck me, independent of the subject, was my amazing freshman (now senior) Senator, @SenWarren. There were many Members who showed up. Almost all of them wanted to speak. Almost none of them had time to stay for the whole event. And almost all of them were pulled constantly to their preferred brand of tech-distraction.
Except Warren: She didn’t ask to speak, she didn’t check her blackberry, and she stayed the whole time, listening, thinking, and offering support at the end.
I’m sure her staff will teach her someday that this not how politicians are to behave. I was glad to witness her before those lessons are learned. It let me dream — maybe they never will be learned.
When a law professor is given a “chair” s/he gives a lecture in honor of the honor. I am the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership. On February 19, at 5pm @ HLS, I was scheduled to give my chair lecture. After Aaron’s death, I asked the Dean to let me reschedule the lecture. But after some more thought, I’ve decided to make the lecture about Aaron, and about how we need to honor his work. Anyone is invited. More details to follow. And the event will be webcast.
A week ago today, Aaron gave up. And since I received the call late Friday night telling me that, like so many others who were close to him, I have not rested. Not slept, really. Not connected with my kids, at all. Not held my wife except to comfort her tears, or for her to comfort mine.
Instead of rest, I have been frantically trying to explain, to connect, and to make sense of all of this. Endless emails responding to incredible kindness, phone call after phone call with reporters and friends, and the only solace I know: writing.
But none of that has made this better. Indeed, with every exchange, it only gets worse. I understand it less. I am angry more. I think of yet another, “If only I had …”
I need to step back from this for now. I am grateful for your kind emails. I am sorry if I can’t answer them. To the scores of people who write to tell me they were wronged by US Attorney Ortiz, I am sorry, that is not my fight. To the press — especially the press wanting “just five minutes” — I apologize. This isn’t a “just five minutes” story, at least from me.
There have been a handful of smiles this past week. My three year old, Tess, putting her arms around my neck, holding me as tight as she possibly could, promising me “the doctors will put him back together, papa, they will.” A screenwriter friend, grabbing me after a talk in New York, and pulling me into an argument about his next great film. And best of all, the astonishingly beautiful letter from MIT’s president, acknowledging — amazingly — at least the possibility of responsibility, and appointing the very best soul on that side of Cambridge to review and guide that great if flawed institution’s review.
But these smiles have been drowned by endless sadness, and even greater disappointment — and none more pronounced than the utterly profound disappointment in our government, Carmen Ortiz in particular.
I hate my perpetual optimism about our government. Aaron was buried on the tenth anniversary of the time that optimism bit me hardest — Eldred v. Ashcroft. But how many other examples are there, and why don’t I ever learn? The dumbest-fucking-naive-allegedly-smart person you will ever know: that guy thought this tragedy would at least shake for one second the facade of certainty that is our government, and allow at least a tiny light of recognition to shine through, and in that tiny ray, maybe a question, a pause, a moment of “ok, we need to look at this carefully.” I wasn’t dumb enough to believe that Ortiz could achieve the grace of Reif. But the single gift I wanted was at least a clumsy, hesitating, “we’re going to look at this carefully, and think about whether mistakes might have been made.”
But oh Lucy, you’ve done it again.
Ortiz’s statement is a template for all that is awful in what we as a political culture have become. And it pushes me — me, the most conventional, wanting-to-believe-in-all-things-patriotic, former teenage Republican from the home of Little League baseball — to a place far more radical than I ever want to be. Ortiz wrote:
As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz,
Yes, Ms. Ortiz, you obviously can “only imagine.” Because if you felt it, as obviously as Reif did, it would move you first to listen, and then to think. You’re so keen to prove that you understand this case better than your press releases about Aaron’s “crime” (those issued when Aaron still drew breath) made it seem (“the prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain”). But if your prosecutors recognized this, then this is the question to answer:
Why was he being charged with 13 felonies?
His motive was political — obviously. His harm was exactly none — as JSTOR effectively acknowledged. But he deserved, your “career prosecutors” believed, to be deprived of his rights as a citizen (aka, a “felon,” no longer entitled to the political rights he fought to perfect) because of what he did.
Yet here’s the thing to remember on MLK weekend (even though my saying this violates a rule I believe in firmly, a kind of inverse to Godwin’s law, because though I believe these two great souls were motivated by exactly the same kind of justice, King’s cause was greater): How many felonies was Martin Luther King, Jr., convicted of? King, whose motives were political too, but who, unlike Aaron, triggered actions which caused real harm (as in physical damage). What’s that number?
And how many was he even charged with in the whole of his career?
Two. Two bogus charges (perjury and tax evasion) from Alabama, which an all-white jury acquitted him of.
This is a measure of who we have become. And we don’t even notice it. We can’t even see the extremism that we have allowed to creep into our law. And we treat as decent a government official who invokes her family while defending behavior which in part at least drove this boy to his death.
I still dream. It is something that Darrell Issa and Zoe Lofgren are thinking along the same lines. On this anniversary of the success of the campaign to stop SOPA — a campaign which Aaron helped architect — maybe I’m right to be hopeful that even this Congress might do something. We’ll see. Maybe they’ll surprise us. Maybe.
But for now, I need to step away. I apologize for the silence. I am sorry for the replies I will not give. Aaron was wrong about very few things, but he was wrong to take his life. I have to return to mine, and to the amazingly beautiful creatures who are trying to pull me back.
I will always love you, sweet boy. Please find the peace you were seeking. And if you do, please find a way to share that too.
There’s no work that can be done today, save the work to talking about this story. I’m doing a bunch of interviews. Bravo to @DemocracyNow for spending an hour today on this. Here’s my bit:
(Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.)
Since his arrest in January, 2011, I have known more about the events that began this spiral than I have wanted to know. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer. He shared with me what went down and why, and I worked with him to get help. When my obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me to continue as a lawyer, I continued as a friend. Not a good enough friend, no doubt, but nothing was going to draw that friendship into doubt.
The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Net confirm who this amazing boy was to all of us. But as I’ve read these aches, there’s one strain I wish we could resist:
Please don’t pathologize this story.
No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (and he was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slide what brought him here.
First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.
But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment was appropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or a cracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completely different?
Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.
Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.
Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.
For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”
In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.
Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.
One word, and endless tears.
There is no way to express the sadness of this day. There will be many words, eventually, to express its anger. This story will infuriate you. For now, to the co-creator of RSS, of the Creative Commons architecture, of part of Reddit, and of endless love and inspiration and friendships, rest. We are all incredibly sorry to have let you down.
Coolest honorarium ever - I’m a KY Colonel after speaking to the KY legislature. at Kentucky State Capitol – View on Path.
Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui have an incredibly important piece in the HuffingtonPost about the time Members spend raising money.
One picture captures it all. This is a slide taken from a PowerPoint deck, given to incoming freshman congressmen about how they are to allocate their time.
Four hours of call time — and even this doesn’t include the time at fundraisers in the evening, or late afternoon or lunch. (As one Member told a Harvard audience last year, in his 6 years in Congress he had had lunch with a colleague 8 time — “if you’ve got time for lunch, you’ve got time to raise money”).
Read the piece. It is a great work of investigative journalism, filled with reflections and commentary by Members and others, about a system literally no one in good faith can defend anymore.
Indeed, by the end, you’re even feeling sorry for these Members. As Representative Larson put it, “it’s the only system they have to work with.”
Ugh. Bet this doesn’t happen to @joi on his “Dreamliner” at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – View on Path.
Annual ritual becoming weekly ritual… at Flatbread Company – View on Path.
Apparently we’re the only family with the tradition of bowling at 9am on New Year’s morning. at Flatbread Company – View on Path.
I’m an eager “author” at The Atlantic, happy to blog whenever I can about the issues that matter most to me. But The Atlantic is a proper publication, which means it exercises editorial control, which always means AT LEAST that they get to pick the title.
I’m 99% of the time fine with that, but sometimes, the title creates an impression different from what I mean. And so it the case with the latest “Why a Democratic Tea Party Is the Best Hope for Fixing Corrupt Government.”
To someone who just read the title, you might think the piece was an argument for a partisan-based movement in favor of reform. And if you have read what I’ve written before, you would be surprised by that (as I work INCREDIBLY HARD to push the idea of a cross-partisan movement for reform).
But if you read the whole piece, you’ll see that the title gets drawn from this paragraph:
Democrats have a real chance here. While no one doubts that the corruption of this current system is symmetrical — Democrats are just as dependent as Republicans on funding from the tiniest slice of the 1 percent — the reform movement is not symmetrical. The GOP has become the anti-reform party (unless by “reform” you mean increasing the corruption of a system in which the tiniest slice of the 1 percent fund America’s campaigns). Only Democrats are talking about ideas that might actually end that corruption.
It is time for Democrats finally to steal a move from the Republican’s playbook: Boldness inspires. If there’s going to be a Tea Party for Reform, Democrats must start talking about ideas that give people a real reason to get excited.
This isn’t, and wasn’t meant to be, a suggestion that the reform movement should be Democratic. It shouldn’t. The point instead is simply that only the Democrats have begun to take up this corruption — a corruption, again, that afflicts both sides.
jxchristopher: Unusually partisan for you, Professor @Lessig - you’re much more persuasive when striking at roots rather than branches http://t.co/R856ldSV
It is true, the piece is, and it was difficult to write because it is. It is my style, and for good purpose, to keep it clear that the problem that I am describing — the problem of the corrupting influence of campaign cash — is completely bi-partisan. I work hard to make that point as clear as I can (and am most proud when people see that).
But I was struck when I read Thomas Mann & Norm Ornstein’s book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, with both (1) how convincing they are about partisan problem that they are describing, and (2) how difficult it is to take their position.
Their point is that the Republicans are now different. Echoing others (see, e.g., Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal), Mann and Ornstein argue that the behavior of the Republicans is unprecedented in modern history, and that that behavior is unambiguously harmful to our type of democracy. A parliamentary democracy can afford a militant minority, since the majority can still govern. But a constitutional democracy with the kind of separation of powers that we have cannot survive a militant minority, since the consequence of that permanent war is perpetual stalemate. The “ideals” that Newt Gingrich introduced to Congress destroyed Congress and thus also our ability to govern. And while there are people who don’t mind if government can’t do anything, they are not people with any connection to reality.
Only the Republicans have been militant minority-ists. The Democrats, in minority during the Bush years, never adopted a “we will not give you one vote” rule. But that was precisely the rule McConnell and the house leadership insisted upon when Obama became President. We have suffered from that militant behavior since, and it continues even after this election. (HuffPo: Boehner to GOP: Fall in Line)
Yet it is hard to remark this — especially hard for people like Ornstein and Mann, who depend upon access to Congress for their work. Indeed, these two intellectual deans of congressional studies have been meticulously a-partisan for most of the history of their work. It seems unseemly to be anything but. Yet as they describe in this latest, it was impossible for them to write honestly and not address this fundamentally destructive turn in the behavior of the GOP.
Their point is not fundamentally partisan. They would criticize the Democrats if Democrats behaved in the same way. But the consequence of their speaking so clearly and convincingly is a book that strikes directly at one party. And in this era of “objective” journalism, where every truth must have two sides neutrally described (global warming, evolution, and the partisanship of political parties), there’s something jarring in reading their book.
I am fortunate that my subject doesn’t require their courage. Both parties pander to the money. But out of respect for them, convinced as I am of the fundamental character of the problem they described, I wrote as I did, repeating their strong attribution of blame.
(Note: I am not as convinced as they are that the problems of polarization are unrelated to the problem of money. I wish they had done more to address that point. But I am convinced that the truth they have so simply and directly stated is one we must all have the courage to repeat.)
There is something fundamentally unAmerican (in the non-McCarthy sense of that term) about the current attitude of the GOP to their (lack of) power. It is an attitude that is disrespectful of the best of our traditions, that echoes the worst of our traditions, and that is unsustainable for a nation that intends to thrive. More of us should call them out for it. Especially the only powerful politician in our system not running for reelection: The President.
(And all this would be true, even if a majority of Americans hadn’t voted Democratic in the House, Senate and Presidential races.)
My family and I spent a couple hours with Mike Connolly (@nomoneyconnolly) and his fiance, Kacy, talking to Cambridge voters yesterday. Connolly is running for State Representative in a district that straddles Cambridge and Somerville. He’s a “progressive independent,” challenging an incumbent Democrat, Tim Toomey (who simultaneously sits on the Cambridge City Council, making him one of the highest paid government officials in MA, yet with one of the worst voting attendance records in MA).
Toomey has opposed “Clean Elections” in Massachusetts. The signal issue for Connolly is clean elections. He is taking no money to fund his campaign — and asking people to symbolically donate $0.00 to him on his website. He would be an incredible fresh voice to shake up an effectively one party state — around the issue many of us have been pushing.
But what was most striking about walking with “No Money Mike” was how many already knew him, and the excitement they could barely contain. Connolly’s yard signs are everywhere. And though radically underfunded, his message seems known. He stopped one 20-something woman to give her a brochure, and she said, “Wait, you’re Mike Connolly?” Then with the excitement of a teen meeting a superstar, she gave him a high five, and turned to her friend, “This is Mike Connolly, the guy I was telling you about.” And after a couple minutes of talking, she grabbed a pile of brochures and promised to spread them broadly.
It struck me then that this is all it takes. Not the candidate, and not the campaign: Of course it takes that too, but that’s too often not enough. Beyond that, it takes this sort of excitement by people who know of the campaign, with something we on the Left don’t do as well as people on the Right: carry-through. If that woman actually carries through, and gives that literature to her friends, and if they, and others like them spread the word and turn out, this could be an important surprise for MA, and revitalize a campaign in MA — for Clean Money — that should have been resolved long ago.
We who care about this issue have few races this cycle where we can make a stand. The issue has been invisible at the Federal level. Too many in MA wish it would be forgotten locally too. But here is one place where a victory would be unambiguously a victory for the idea that this corrupt system must change.
If you believe in this cause, do something to help it here. The idea of beating a 20 year incumbent Democrat circa Cambridge is, let’s say, difficult. But six thousand votes would win. The district has plenty of students. If you have friends there (the 26th), share with them the substance of this fight (Mike’s site; Toomey’s site), and give them a sense of its importance.