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Honoring Swartz, Lessig Walks to Raise Awareness of Campaign Finance Reform

By Tyler S. B. Olkowski, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, along with dozens of activists, will continue a 185-mile, two-week march across New Hampshire this week to protest the corrupting influence of money in politics and publicize the need for campaign finance reform as the important 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary approaches.

Lessig’s walk began on Jan. 11 to honor the life of Aaron Swartz, a former Harvard fellow, a managing partner of Reddit, and an internet freedom activist who convinced Lessig that campaign finance regulations had to be reformed before other issues could be addressed.

Swartz, who wrote code for Lessig’s Creative Commons and worked at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, which Lessig directs, committed suicide on Jan. 11, 2012 after being charged with wire fraud for downloading academic journals.

“He convinced me that this was the right thing to do,” said Lessig, who began advocating for campaign finance reform after speaking with Swartz. He later added, “Regardless of the issue that you think is important…what is blocking reform is the way we fund elections.”

In his march across the state, Lessig joined New Hampshire Rebellion, an activist organization for campaign finance reform.

“His walk is, I think, Lessig simply wanting to try to generate that pressure for change,” Law School professor Jonathan L. Zittrain in an email to The Crimson. Zittrain, who directs Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, went on to call the walk “a moving op-ed.”

The walk has drawn national attention, garnering coverage from news outlets like The Atlantic, the Huffington Post, and numerous local news stations in New Hampshire. Lessig is not a newcomer to the political spotlight. He considered a run for a California Congressional seat in 2010, has supported the idea of a second Constitutional convention to overhaul the current Constitution, and has advocated for causes like less stringent copyright laws.

Lessig previously criticized the influence of money in elections in a popular TED Talk and recent book, “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It.”

The walk has also drawn inspiration from Doris Haddock—known by many as “Granny D”—who walked across the country at the age of 88 to draw attention to the issue in 1999. It will come to an end this Friday, Jan. 24, on the anniversary of her birth.

Lessig noted that New Hampshire was a great place to start raising awareness, given the importance of its presidential primary, but said he hoped the movement would influence voters across the nation.

“It would be great to have Granny D walks in Iowa and South Carolina,” Lessig said.

According to Lessig, the vast majority of people believe money has a negative effect on elections, but that same majority believes nothing will be done.

“If you see what Larry’s doing as...raising awareness and promoting the very idea of active citizenship, then I think he’s really on to something,” Law School professor and founder of the Berkman Center Charles R. Nesson said. “[Money in politics] is a fundamental danger to our republic in the undermining role of the citizen.”

Despite this national apathy, “time in New Hampshire has made me incredibly optimistic,” Lessig said. “What I’ve seen up here is incredible passion.”

—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at tolkowski@college.harvard.edu.

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