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Senator Wyden Remarks at Aaron Swartz Memorial

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden

Remarks As Prepared for Aaron Swartz’ Memorial

February 4, 2013

Washington, DC


A long time ago, Henry David Thoreau asked if a "citizen [should] ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator?"

It’s a question that should continually be asked. I say that as a legislator, and as a father.

I now think of Aaron when I read the book Henry Climbs a Mountain to my five-year-old twins. The book was inspired by the night Thoreau stayed in jail.

In it, a fuzzy bear named Henry wants to climb a mountain. But he has only one shoe. On his way to the shoemaker’s shop, the tax collector stopped him. Henry refused to pay the tax because he objected to an injustice that was tolerated by the state. He preferred to go to jail than pay the tax. He would not resign his conscience.

As Henry lay in his white jail cell, he still wished he had his other shoe. So he took crayons from his pocket and drew a shoe on a white wall. Then he drew a flower with a hummingbird on it. Then he drew trees and imagined himself climbing a mountain. He climbed up waterfalls. He marched through clouds.

At the top of the mountain, Henry imagined he met a traveler coming up the other side. The traveler sought freedom from the injustice of his side of the mountain. He and Henry sat and talked and laughed and sang songs. Henry noticed that the traveler had no shoes and asked him where he was going. "As far as the star in the North," the traveler said.

"That’s a long way," said Henry. "Take my shoes!" The traveler put on Henry’s shoes. He stood and waved. "Thank you, friend," he called.

Henry then hiked all night down the mountain. He tripped. Caught his foot in a rabbit hole. He walked all night and entered into a small room at dawn. Just then the door opened to wake him up. He was back to what we call "reality." In the door was the tax collector who told Henry that he was free because someone paid his taxes. When asked how it felt to be free, Henry said, "It feels like being on top of a very tall mountain!" Then he walked to the shoemaker’s to buy a new pair of shoes.

To me, Aaron’s story is much like Henry’s. Henry hacked his jail cell. He hacked to help people — to give shoes to a traveler. To call out injustice through civil disobedience.

Aaron worked closely with my office on a number of civil liberties issues.

We shared a march toward a common star and what it represented to us and to others. I am grateful for the experience.

Aaron will forever remain an inspiration. During his short time on earth, he made an eternal difference. For that, we give Aaron our thanks and reaffirm our commitment to continue his march for freedom and a more just world.

Aaron was a hacker. He hacked to promote innovation through openness. Where Aaron saw injustice, he hacked for its remedy. Aaron Swartz hacked Washington. A poorly written law called him a criminal. Common sense and conscience knows better.

For me, Aaron, like Henry, is now on the top of a very tall mountain.

Thank you

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).