Last night, I managed to watch about half an hour of Aaron Swartz’s memorial service before I could not take it any more, and had to shut it off.
In an article about online harassment of women, the brilliant Laurie Penny said,
As I write, there is a real fight going on to keep the internet as free as possible from government interference, a fight to free speech and information from the tyranny of state and corporate control. Without going into it too much here, the internet is full of people who have spent their lives, risked their lives and even lost their lives in that fight. To claim that there’s some sort of equivalence between the coordinated attack on net neutrality and digital freedom going on across the world and the uninterrupted misogyny of comment-thread mouth-breathers doesn’t just take the biscuit, it pinches the whole packet and dribbles ugly bile-flecked crumbs into the keyboard.
That’s Aaron. He was a leader in the fight for all that’s right and good and spectacular about human potential for thought, innovation, creativity, and deep humanity that is able to be realized because of the internet. And the powers took him out.
I know he was loved; you can’t see the posts and read the comments and listen to the talks without knowing how much he meant to all the people he touched through his work. But somehow, the voices of evil and the threat they represented got louder than the voices of love and support and whatever else he needed to help him through. And considering the level of evil he was up against, that’s not really surprising. I know I never reached out to him; it never occurred to me to. I’m just a tech groupie down here, not really worthy of saying, “wow, the things you created, and the thoughts you wrote about, changed some of my fundamental thinking about the world, and hey, thanks.”
So today, I was online when someone near and dear to me, who is a mentor and a pillar and a giant in the land of birth advocacy, Carla Hartley, was feeling really worn down. I happened to have a few minutes, and I pinged her on chat. We talked about throwing in the towel (because, yeah, it’s really Cassandra out lately… always… whatever…), like we do, and then I reminded her of how much she’s done for me, to inspire and support and promote. She gave my my first conference speaking gig, which netted me another one at the Breech Birth Conference, and then when I got to do the online presence for that conference the next time it happened, just on Twitter alone, I was able to connect with ten different women who didn’t know that they had a choice, that vaginal breech birth was an option. So, by extension, goes my reasoning, Carla helped those ten women and she didn’t even know it.
It’s so like It’s A Wonderful Life. You have no idea of the lives you touch, but every good thing you do has ripples that reach out and touch shores you will never see. You have to just operate on faith that that’s true.
…unless the people on the other shores were a little more proactive about putting notes in bottles (to continue the metaphor).
I wonder what life would be like, for the fighters for truth and justice and freedom and all those other big amorphous ideals, if all of us, told all of them, how much they’d done for us? Why *didn’t* I ever reach out to any of my idols? Shyness, maybe, a little bit of awe and hero worship and other things happen in a day and there’s dishes to wash and questions to answer and jobs to hold down and fires to put out and we just… never… do.
But if I’m reading the signs right, the fight is getting bigger, not smaller, and we are all going to be depending on people to stand up for our best interests, to fight the fights they’re best suited to, while we face whatever we are capable of. We’re going to have a lot of tired warriors, and they will be sad, and they will be overwhelmed, sometimes overmatched, often beaten down.
I’d like to ask you all to find someone, anyone, who’s stood up for something you believe in, and I’d like to encourage you to drop them a quick line and thank them. Be less afraid of sounding stupid and star-struck, and be more afraid that our warriors will succumb to the darkness without knowing what hearts were behind them. Tim DeChristopher for standing up and facing down. Bradley Manning for thinking we can handle the truth. Sandor Katz for rephrasing the entire concept of bacteria. Joel Salatin for daring to stand up for actual food. Bill McKibben for screaming in the face of climate change denial. Theresa Spence for demanding that power speak to her. Lynn Paltrow for insisting that women are people. Tim Berners-Lee for the internet. There are so many heroes, on so many fronts. And I bet they get tired and overwhelmed and could use a little active praise.