A New Hampshire Rebellion for Aaron Swartz

A year after the death of internet and social activist Aaron Schwartz, a friend describes the political movement Schwartz’s life inspired.

A year ago tomorrow, Aaron Swartz left. He had wound us all up, pointed us in a million directions, we were all working as hard as we could, moving things forward. And then he was gone.

Forever, all of us close to him will wonder whether there was more we could have done to keep him. We hadn't worked hard enough to help him. He was alone, surrounded by a million friends. And now, even now, forever it will be this now, a million friends are forever alone, having lost him.

I wanted to find a way to mark this day. I wanted to feel it, as physically painful as it was emotionally painful one year ago, and every moment since. So I am marking it with the cause that he convinced me to take up seven years ago and which I am certain he wanted to make his legacy too. On Saturday, we begin a walk across the state of New Hampshire, to launch a campaign to bring about an end to that system of corruption that we believe infects DC. This is the New Hampshire Rebellion.

Fifteen years after New Hampshire's Doris Haddock (aka, “Granny D”), at 88, began her famous walk from LA to DC with the sign “CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM" on her chest, a dozen or so of us will start in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, the place the first 2016 presidential ballots will be cast. For two weeks, with more than 100 joining us along the way, we will walk south across New Hampshire, ending up in Nashua on the day Granny D was born.

Along the way, we will recruit everyone we can to do this one thing: we want them to ask every presidential candidate at every event between now and January 2016, this one question: “How will you end the system of corruption in DC?”

A system of corruption, not particular crimes. Our focus is not Rod Blagojevich; it is the system of campaign funding in which fundraising is key, and the funders represent the tiniest fraction of the one percent. That system corrupts this democracy. And until that system changes, no sensible reform on the right or the left is possible. Politicians may continue to play this fundraising game. But we believe that New Hampshire can change it.

As this question gets asked, we will record the responses. Literally. And post them. And through allied campaigns, we will put pressure on the candidates to surface this issue and—if we're luck —make it central to their campaigns.

This campaign will only work if the citizens of New Hampshire really care about this issue. Really care. And the citizens of New Hampshire will really care only if we can find a way to convince them that there's something that can be done about it.

Because here's the really incredible fact that we've just discovered in a recent national poll about this issue:

96 percent of Americans believe it is “important” “that the influence of money in politics be reduced.” Sixty-eight percent believe it is “very important,” 28 percent just “important.”

Yet 91 percent of Americans believe it is “not likely” that the influence will be reduced. If we can, as Harvey Milk used to say, “give ‘em hope”—hope that that there's a real chance this system of corruption might change—then some of this latent energy for reform might be released. And then this, the only real hope for real reform, might be realized: an end to this system of corruption.

Since Aaron convinced me to take up this cause, I’ve written three books, and given more than three hundred lectures about this problem. But the walk across New Hampshire is not a lecture tour. It is a chance for all of us to talk about this issue, person to person, one citizen at a time. Most politicos believe it is not possible to convince ordinary voters to care about this issue. I believe these experts are wrong. Over the next two weeks, and twice more before the 2016 primary, as we walk across the state, we’ll see. And I will report back.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

You can help. Please help. You can still join the walk. You can spread the word of the walk (tweet #NHRWalk linked to You can sign a petition from wherever you are to push the candidates to answer this one question. Or, with just a few clicks, you can send support that will help this movement grow.

It is will always be my penance now always to believe that I didn't do enough for my friend. I will do more. This is the start. If we're lucky, we'll mark the third anniversary of this that terrible day with the real hope that the New Hampshire primary will turn upon this issue. And if we're super lucky, we'll mark the fourth with the anticipation of a president who made it her or his issue. And won.