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Aaron Swartz Remembered as Internet Activist who Changed the World

Aaron Swartz's funeral was held on Tuesday to a packed crowd in Highland Park, his hometown.

Aaron Swartz’s funeral on Tuesday had two recurring messages — the brilliance and impact on the world that the Internet activist had in his 26 years, and the fault of the government in his death.

“Aaron wanted so badly to change the world — more than money, more than fame. … He believed you had to see the world the way it really is in order to change it,” Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s partner, said in a speech at the funeral.

Swartz, a Highland Park native and North Shore Country Day alum, was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday in an apparent suicide. Swartz had been an Internet pioneer since high school, when he helped to develop the RSS feed, which allows people to subscribe to online information. He also co-created social news website Reddit.

In 2011, he landed in trouble with the federal government when he was indicted for gaining illegal access to JSTOR, a subscription-based service that distributes academic journals, and downloaded nearly its entire library, which prosecutors allege that he hoped to release for free. The charges, which were pending, carried up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

“Aaron used to say, when something is hard, you have to lean into the pain, because when it’s hard, it’s important,” Stinebrickner-Kauffman said. “I think he finally fell into the pain.”

Swartz’s funeral was held at the Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, with a standing-room only crowd that included family, friends and other Internet pioneers. 

“Aaron was the rare activist who was not also idealistic. He approached activism like a social scientist,” described friend and fellow Internet activist Ben Wikler. “He had this impish, gleeful sense of joy and excitement. He was so good at solving big problems and so bad at solving the ones in his own life.”

Time and time again, Swartz was described as passionate, brilliant and as someone with high expectations for his loved ones around him.

“He reminded me so much of Calvin, from ‘Calvin and Hobbes,'” Wikler said. “He made us all want to live the way he lived. He challenged us so much, demanded so much of us, certainly by arguing … but even more so by example.” 

“For someone with such a clear vision, his one blind spot was how much he mattered,” Wikler added, as he choked back his tears.

Robert Swartz, Aaron’s father, delivered the final eulogy, in which he spoke about his son’s lifelong love of learning, and the passion for computers that started at a young age.

“With computers, he took to them like a fish takes to water,” Swartz said of his son. “It was just incredible how easy it was for him.”

Swartz also did not mince words as he described what he believes drove his son to take his own life.

“Aaron did not commit suicide, but was killed by the government,” he said. “I promised Aaron that I’d use every synapse of my body and brain to defeat the government, and things are looking better.”

Federal prosecutors announced Monday that they were dropping the charges, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Swartz’ friends and family set up the website rememberaaronsw.com for people around the world to share their memories and feelings about him. The website was built using some of the same software programs that Swartz helped to create.

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