I've covered the fall of the Berlin Wall from East Berlin, snuck into Cuba without government knowledge, reported for the gay press from behind the Iron Curtain and reported from Lebanon, but actually participating in a revolution had to wait until this past weekend.
While attempting to get more info on the revolution in Libya using the Internet, I stumbled into a live stream from those actually in the battle against the Moammar Gadhafi regime. They were in Benghazi, in the eastern part of Libya, and they had just captured the second-largest city in Libya in a very bloody street-to-street battle. They were not sure how Gadhafi would come after them and the others around that country. Bodies were in the streets. The next day, it became clear. He sent his air force to fire on the people and used mercenaries in the streets.
At first, I just read the streaming and realized that since the regime had cut off all communications, it was difficult for them to get information from the West -- information they needed, but might not realize they needed. Some of the chat was clearly anti-American, and likely many would not take kindly to our community, but the issue here was humanity first. They were being hunted.
So I decided to engage. My screen name became gay11.
At first, I just copied and pasted from Western news outlets such as CNN, BBC and The Guardian. Then when the Arabic Al Jazeera got jammed, I started using their English site as a source. After all, Arabic speakers trusted Al Jazeera more than CNN or BBC.
At times there were four, five or six pages open on my computer screen, as I had CNN on in the background. As rumors spread, I tried to confirm via media reports, always giving the source. When CNN's Ben Wedeman crossed the Egyptian border into Libya, becoming the first reporter to venture into the "war zone," I reported it immediately. They had watched Wedeman cover the Egyptian revolution, and knew his work well. The comments immediately became upbeat: "Wedeman is here" or "Wedeman is coming." After almost two days of this, I mentioned it on my Facebook page. Al Patrick, a former PGN editor who now is a freelance producer for Sky News in London, emailed and soon we had Sky News coverage from the view of those in Gadhafi's crosshairs.
At one point, after hearing Gadhafi's hourlong ramble coming from my computer, my assistant Carol said with a smirk, "Gee, at my last job they had the mob, here we have terrorists." I replied, "Do I really have to explain the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary?" and we both laughed.
But, a reality check. Gadhafi is a terrorist. Remember the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 and the Berlin disco? He is the original poster child for state-supported terrorism. The only other dictator he can be compared with is Saddam Hussein.
They knew I was American, but they never asked about the gay and, out of respect for their situation and their customs, this was not the time to address it. At first, they believed Americans were against them. After all, Gadhafi always told them so in a country that tightly controlled its media.
As I write this, we don't know what the results will be: if the revolt will win out or if the regime will use massive force to kill more people. But this revolution will eventually win out, since the group leading it is a dedicated, educated brave few who stood up and said, "We want freedom."
I'm betting on them.