|By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema
Column reprinted from Veer Magazine
We are living under a truly Orwellian political system that claims to work for the best interests of the public but in fact will only pass legislation and regulations in the interests of corporations. No matter which politicians are in office, the corporate capitalists dismantle social welfare programs, defund education, push down unions and wages, gut environmental regulations, escape taxation, and fund more war.
Politicians dare not call attention to the scam or speak out for campaign reform; they are raking in too much dough from all the legalized corporate bribery that they receive. So they hide behind nationalism, party politics, and religion, thinking that they can keep fooling the masses.
Their efforts are aided and abetted by the mainstream media whose tills overflow with the record-breaking political campaign spending that is now allowed. These media barons would never bite the hand that feeds them and so they unquestioningly spout state propaganda that promotes empire and good ole’ American exceptionalism.
Such a mass deception necessitates a perpetual campaign of elaborate lies and denials orchestrated by our two party duopoly. Those who might stand up to the system – truth tellers, activist journalists, and whistleblowers – are severely punished by the government in an attempt to keep other insiders from coming forth. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange could never receive a fair trial in this country.
And then there is Aaron Swartz, a less renown truthteller whose story will be presented on Wednesday, July 16 in the new documentary The Internet’s Own Boy. Swartz was a programming prodigy and information activist who developed the basic internet protocol RSS and then co-founded Reddit. Some years later, after cashing in on the sale of Reddit, he chose a life of strong progressive activism. But his commitment to change the world ensnared him in a legal nightmare that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.
In order to better understand Aaron Swartz, we can compare his actions to those of another young student living in Boston at the time. Mark Zuckerberg started his first social network project Facemash by hacking into Harvard University’s network to illegally obtain photos and information about fellow students. He went on to monetize his project and to receive the full backing of Wall Street.
Swartz ran in some of the same social circles as Zuckerberg in Boston and in a similar fashion as the Facebook founder, he also breached the security of a major university, MIT. But Swartz’s motivation for his hacking was way different. He downloaded and made available for free the publicly funded academic and research papers that were distributed by a for-profit company, JSTOR.
In defiance of the Silicon Valley business model, Swartz was not willing to play the game that Zuckerberg played to create his individual wealth through the privatizing of the internet. Zuckerberg received the protection of the government, and all that was asked of him in return was to hand over his customer’s collected information to be used for worldwide surveillance.
In contrast, Aaron Swartz’ belief was in an open society with free and open information. But he knew that we must first fight for media democracy if there can ever be real government transparency. The monetization and exploitation of the early public airwaves of radio and television led to rampant commercialization that has served the interest of corporate empires rather than the democratic ideal of a well informed citizenry. Now these same forces were about to win control of the internet.
In 2012, Aaron organized a citizen campaign to keep the internet open and free. He fought an uphill battle against an entrenched Congress that represented industries attempting to control content on the internet in a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). His campaign went viral on the web and Congress was astounded by the public outcry against their underhanded actions. The politicians jumped ship and in a brief time, the bill was shelved by the House Judiciary Committee.
It’s easy to see why the government came after Swartz and gave Zuckerberg a free pass. The corporate state may be lenient on hackers, but activism and media democracy are the real threats feared by the establishment. Swartz was just too charismatic and smart to be left alone by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They charged him with felonies that carried a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison. He fought the government for two years to gain his freedom and it bankrupted him as well as caused his depression. Aaron Swartz finally succumbed to the forces of darkness in 2013.
If Aaron was still with us today he would undoubtably be leading the fight against the current FCC efforts to squander the promise of the internet on large corporate interests. But his tragic and needless death has made him into an internet martyr for the digerati and young techno hackers. In trying to make an example of Aaron Swartz along with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the government has helped grow the movement for a free internet and for transparency in government. All the military-corporatist forces together cannot eradicate this new interconnected world conscience.
More Upcoming Film Events at the Naro
SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT Set in turn-of-the-century Sweden, the relationships of four men and four women are entangled as they attempt to navigate the laws of attraction. When they are all invited to a summer solstice celebration at a beautiful country estate, the women collude to force the men’s hands in matters of the heart. Director Ingmar Bergman’s crowning comic achievement. Showing in “Faith in Film”on Sunday, June 22.
IF YOU BUILD IT From the director of Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A. comes a captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills. The film follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina and just south of the Virginia state line. Showing Wed, June 25.
CITIZEN KOCH In this searing exposé on the state of democracy in America and the fracturing of the Republican Party, Oscar nominated directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (co-producers of Fahrenheit 9/11 & Bowling for Columbine) follow the big money funding the rise of the Tea Party and right-wing America. Showing Wed, July 2.
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER Now considered one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a loner who worked as a nanny most of her life, and shot over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. Showing Wed, July 9.