Did you see that BBC documentary about Aaron Swartz? (The Internet’s Own Boy – Watch it here)
It humbled me.
Aaron was my age, but spoke like a wise elder. He was determined to make the world a better place using his skills (computer programming). Particularly freedom of data. For example, U.S. federal court records that were supposed to be freely available were practically unsearchable on their online portal and charged at $0.10 a page. He downloaded them from certain libraries where they were free, and re-uploaded them again on a different website where they were truly freely available to the public. He was a busy person. He was a co-founder of Reddit, worked on the development of RSS, shaped Creative Commons licensing at just 15 years old, developed Watchdog.net (visualised data on politicians), co-founded DemandProgress.org (which helped stop SOPA), led the development of Open Library and was a Fellow at Harvard University.
When he was aged just 26, he was faced with a 35 year jail sentence for downloading many scholarly articles off of the JSTOR website. In most people’s opinions he hadn’t done anything illegal – he was at MIT at the time, which subscribed to JSTOR. Neither JSTOR nor MIT prosecuted him, but the United States Government did. Shocking. The pressure led him to tragically commit suicide.
At the end of this documentary was a statement along the lines of “What concerns you most in the world right now? If you’re not working on that – why not?”
I couldn’t argue against that statement. Why aren’t I working towards a sustainable future / reduce climate change / protect endangered species / reduce poverty and wealth inequalities??
My series of excuses – ( I am busy bringing up a child / keeping my home clean/ washing the car……) all seemed irrelevant, naive and pathetic. I tried to think of more. (I don’t have the time / money / I’m not an expert on this….). I didn’t really have any good excuses at all.
I needed to get out of my comfortable little bubble and DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE THE WORLD!! Like, now!
I got as far as my laptop. This was a good place to start. I mean, Aaron himself started on his computer. I thought there must be something I can do from my laptop to change the world? Then I remembered ‘Change.org’ – a platform where anyone can create a petition and put it online for others to sign. I thought this would be perfect as a start to influence the world from my sofa.
So I went on and the first petition I came across was:
“Save SEALIFE London Aquarium Penguins!”
Did you know they are being kept in a tiny enclosure underground and they NEVER see the SKY?! That’s cruelty of a Victorian level. I signed the petition.
Next was “Help protect the UK’s Allotment sites”
Allotments? They’re wonderful! Fresh food, habitat for wildlife, clean breathing spaces…what’s not to like? I signed the petition with a note, “I agree. UK Allotment sites are disappearing as councils are given permission to sell them off to make quick money. What do we need more? Quick cash or courgettes?! Courgettes for the win!!”
I was starting to enjoy this! So then I signed petitions for “British Airways – Stop selling trips to SEAWORLD!” and, “Take Bare Boobs Out Of The Sun”.
By this point I was on a roll. With one click of my mouse I was changing the world! I was making everything better! All I had to do was click ‘SIGN PETITION’ and I was gilded with the glow of a do-gooder. I clicked, and clicked…and clicked some more. After all, these people put across great arguments for their cases, and it didn’t cost me much (well, anything) to support them.
Ok, so some of them were fairly low-brow – nothing of the systematic or ideological changes that Aaron Swartz was campaigning for – but I was really getting into the swing of this! I enhanced the whole experience with some ‘Jerry Springer’ style “Woop! Woop!”‘s and gaudy comments like, “BOOBS BELONG IN THE BRA!! (in newspapers. Of course this doesn’t apply to breastfeeding mothers, or nudists, or anyone else who so chooses to go bra-less)”
I think the moment I realised I had gone a little too Jerry Springer was when I responded to a rather serious campaign “Get CCTV on passenger decks of ferries” with “and cruise ships too! It is far too easy to murder someone by throwing them overboard!!”
I decided to try and fight injustices at a higher level. I found out that there was a petition site that was run by, and read by, the UK government. Wow! I was going to find some real world-changing stuff there!
The petition with the most signatures (over 100,000) seemed to be fairly serious. At last – a really serious, life changing, radical petition! It called for ‘Harvey’s Law’:
On November 23rd Harvey ran away at 10pm. Twenty one minutes later he was killed on the M62.
Due to the inadequate procedures of the Highways Agency his fate was not discovered for 13 weeks.
By chance the events of November 23rd were communicated. Imagine the heartache, frustration and distress caused because of inadequate and unenforced procedures.
This sounded unbelievable! Someone killed on the motorway and their body not being discovered for 13 weeks?! Horrific! No wonder the family are calling for a change in the law!
But before I signed the petition I decided to read the government response. On this website, every petition with over 10,000 signatures gets a personal response. I was intrigued what they had to say for themselves.
The government does understand how important pets are and regrets that, sadly, a number of them are killed or injured on our roads each year. Section 7.17 of the NMM describes processes that must be followed when canine remains are found on the network, although it does recognise that it is impossible to guarantee that remains can be fully identified due to the high speed nature of the Agency’s roads.
Ha!!! I laughed out loud at the ‘high speed nature” comment. Either the UK is pretty perfect right now, or I am just looking in the wrong places for causes and campaigns to put my efforts into.
Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong place. I found more potentially life changing petitions and causes at: