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Forum of Julius Caesar
Forum of Julius Caesar, with Santa Maria in Aracoeli and the Vittorio Emanuele Monument in the background (Laurence Lewis)
In the bleak months after the horrors of September 11, 2001, the traditional media were but enthralled sycophants of the Bush-Cheney maladministration. It was a top story when anyone with access to the media dared public criticism. For those who were still informed and capable of coherent thought, the sense of isolation could have been overwhelming. It was worse even than during the Reagan years. But we didn't have the internet during the Reagan years. In 2001, I was fortunate to be living in the San Francisco Bay Area, but if not for the internet, it would have felt like an island of sanity. The nation had been traumatized and those in power were responding not to heal and defend but to manipulate and abuse. For the most part, the traditional media were their servants.

I wasn't blogging in 2001 and 2002, but I already had become a subscriber of Salon and a fan of the Daily Howler and Bush Watch. I collected articles, for emailing and for use in various writings. I occasionally read a blog or two but never really considered participating. I was in the midst of a couple major writing projects, my personal life was full, and soon I would be preparing to leave the country for over a year. I remember stumbling across Daily Kos back in 2004, before I left the country. Had I registered then, I'd have one of those cool two or three digit UIDs that now sell on eBay for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The timing didn't seem ideal for a political junkie, but I first crossed the pond to Europe in the late spring of 2004. Our intention was to remain over there for a year and a half, moving around a lot, studying pre-history, history, and especially art history, absorbing all forms of culture and wandering the landscapes. We would take ships and boats and trains and cars, and we each would have one bag and one pack so we could get around quickly and easily. The thought was in our minds that if things didn't go well in 2004, we might not return at all. There seemed no end to the depravity of the Bush-Cheney team, and no bottom to the depth of its fetid septic tank morality. But even while traveling, I remained a political junkie, and the local media only partially provided my fix. I needed American news. I needed it from sources other than traditional media websites. The blogs became more important to me.

In Paris that late May, we returned from the museums one evening to the small hotel that for a few days was home, and were excitedly embraced by members of the hotel staff. Michael Moore had just won at Cannes. These Parisians wanted to believe the best of Americans, and Michael Moore's victory at the world's most prestigious film festival somehow was deemed to reflect on us as well. Just because we are Americans. We had feared how we would be received while traveling, particularly in France, and just over a year after the invasion of Iraq it did not seem the most propitious time to be over there. But on so many levels it was. In Heidelberg, we saw a Kerry banner hanging from an apartment window. And everywhere we went the locals embraced us. They didn't presume or prejudge, and when we would explain that Bush was even worse than they realized we would become as if instant celebrities. The locals learned from us, we learned from them and from the endless fascinations of their wondrous landscapes and complicated, often gruesome, and even often ecstatically inspiring histories. But for news of home more and more I needed the blogs.

We were in Ireland during the Democratic National Convention. In Galway, at three or four in the morning, we watched a young senatorial candidate named Barack Obama enthrall the world with his eloquence and his potential, and when he was done, I said he would be president some day. I little imagined that some day would come in the very next presidential election. At that point I still had hopes and maybe even expectations that the next presidential election would be to reelect President John Kerry. We had asked for our absentee ballots to be sent to my dad in Oregon. When he received them, we waited until we would be in one place for more than a few days. He Fedexed the ballots to us in Vienna. In Budapest, we used the internet to finish researching local ballot measures, then Fedexed the ballots to a friend back home, and she hand-delivered them to our county elections department.

Budapest
Budapest (Laurence Lewis)
We were in Florence on election night. We stayed up all night on election night. We had known that no matter what happened, I would be a zombie the day after the election, so I had already purchased tickets for the Uffizi, which either way would be a means of cool soothing after little or no sleep. There was a Democratic expats party that night, but after dinner and our nightly visit to the internet cafe where we had purchased a month's access, we walked the familiar path past the Duomo back to our apartment. I spoke a lot with my father that night. I emailed back and forth with everyone. I probably spent more time on Daily Kos that night than ever before. The rumors, the early exit polls, and the actual returns themselves came in faster on Daily Kos, whether on the front page or in the diary headlines. It looked so good, and then it all went wrong. As with Florida four years earlier, Ohio looked won and then they took it away. Unlike with Florida four years earlier, this one really looked lost. For real. As night bled into day there was nowhere in the world I would rather have sought solace than in the Uffizi. Cimabue. Giotto. Botticelli. Leonardo. Raphael. Uccello. Durer. Parmigianino. Caravaggio. Even Rembrandt. I was numb. Aching from the beauty before me and from the horror back home.
Uffizi Gallery
Uffizi Gallery, November 3, 2004 (Laurence Lewis)
We spent that winter in an apartment in Rome, and became friends with a couple of expats who were debating whether or not to return home. She ran an online business and he was a musician who found work on cruise ships and at resorts, and they planned to ride it out and see what happened. They were in no hurry. They also got much of their news from the blogs. CNN International is the professional news outfit its domestic partner already had ceased to be, and the BBC can be great, but nothing was as comprehensive as the blogs. Toward the end of the stay in Rome, I twisted my knee while walking the Via Appia. It didn't seem so bad at first, but as we left Rome and resumed moving around from town to town the pain grew worse. I had had my other knee scoped a few months before the trip began, and after wending our way across and down to Rimini, where we caught a boat for Greece, I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to complete our planned itinerary. At ancient Mycenae, I was told that it was painful just watching me hobble the steep slopes. It was even worse at ragged Santorini. We began to adjust the itinerary. The entire trip was predicated on staying at each location just long enough to see and study as much as was essential as was possible, and there was little room for error, for illness, or for down time. But my knee was now a threat to the entire endeavor.

A friend who had been a nurse at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado gave me some unusual treatment advice and it slowly seemed to be helping. But I needed rest. I needed down time. I didn't want down time. Every day had to count, but I needed down time. We had planned to spend a few days hiking in the Swiss Alps in the spring, but now we planned to stay on a northern Italian lake first. And do nothing. It would be the slowest days of the entire trip. It would be one of the very few times we vacationed at an actual vacation spot. According to my Daily Kos profile page, I registered on May 22, 2005. I took some 150,000 digital photos on the trip, but on that day at the lake I took exactly two.

Lake Como
Lake Como, May 22, 2005 (Laurence Lewis)
A few days later, it was on to Switzerland, with an afternoon in Liechtenstein on the drive up, just because. My knee was healing. Slowly, slowly, my knee was healing. I had to be very careful, and I iced it a couple times, front and back, each night, but I was able to hike. I was able to continue traveling. Learning, photographing, celebrating life. Everywhere we went we discussed politics with the locals. At Castlerigg Stone Circle, in Cumbria, England a Labour family from Winchester told us they felt helpless because Blair was their guy, but Blair was Bush's guy, and their party would not recover. Everywhere we went we were greeted warmly. At the Oslo Domkirke a young law student told us we were as if good will ambassadors. Everywhere we went we shared what we knew of back home, and everywhere we went what I shared included what I was reading on Daily Kos. I only very occasionally commented on the blog, and I wrote a couple simple and not particularly interesting diaries, but the blogs now were a daily routine. Daily Kos now was part of my life. At Santo Tomé, in Toledo, Spain, after a long visit with El Greco's shimmering The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, I was asked if I really wanted to go home.

After 24 countries, and nights spent in over 100 different locations, we returned to the United States in November of 2005. Home is home, and if we don't work to make it work we will have no home. We visited relatives on the East Coast, then embarked on our journey back across this sprawling land of such stunning beauty and such disproportionate excess and want. We were in our own house in early 2006. The friend who had been living there had until her last month neglected to investigate the dripping she had been hearing in the bedroom wall. When she opened up a small hole, the mold broke out in open bloom. I was fortunate to have good insurance. But after nearly two years of frenetic and peripatetic traveling, our first few months back home were not spent sleeping. Our bed was a futon mattress on the carpet of our living room. Beneath the skylight. While half the house was torn apart. I'm a night person and a light sleeper. I didn't get a lot of sleep. And somewhere in there I began participating more regularly, then regularly, at Daily Kos. It had been a political touchstone for me, and now it became a community.

I spent a lot of time in community diaries such as Top Comments and Brothers and Sisters and the freewheeling fun of Buhdydharma's Ask A Kossack. I spent a lot of time in diaries that had nothing to do with politics, because in this community people are interested in all forms of intellectual and cultural expression, and in this community people are passionate about everything. Daily Kos is about passion. I looked with admiration on successful diarists. Eventually, I tried posting another diary. It took a while before any of my diaries hit the Recommended List, and when one finally did it lasted maybe 15 minutes. Eventually I wrote one that stuck. Over time, a few others hit and stuck. People started to recognize me. People began to read me. I began to write almost every day. I began to hit the Rec List a few times a week.

Life does what it does, and as I wrote more diaries I had less time to hang out and have fun in other people's diaries. As my life returned to some semblance of normalcy, my ability to blog came and went in bursts. It seemed the site was united as one in the thrill of election year and election night 2006, and it seemed we disintegrated into discord in 2007 as we thrashed about over the new Democratic Congress's strategies and agendas. Election year 2008 got nasty. I quietly left the site for a while and missed it greatly and missed it not at all. Although by then I was a well known diarist, I knew I would be missed by some but that for the most part my absence wouldn't be noticed. Blogging and humility aren't often related, but I had no illusions about my impact on the Daily Kos community. Politics is intense. People involved with politics are intense. They tend to have an occasional strong opinion. No one person and no one set of opinions is what matters. Fusing, melding, and syncretizing those opinions, and then bringing them to action is what matters.

Some years before Markos had noted that this site and this community are bigger than any of us, and he himself later proved it by being almost invisible for a long while as he focused on building DK4. The site just kept on humming. Hunter also was all but invisible for a long while during the build of DK4. The site just kept on humming. Meteor Blades took a much deserved sabbatical and even then the site just kept on humming. Other front pagers have come and gone, and in one case come again, and the site just keeps on humming. Popular diarists have come and gone and you know the story. The site is bigger than any of us. All real communities are bigger than even their most prominent members. Other than maybe triciawyse, no one at Daily Kos is indispensable. Not even Michael Moore. Many here have become friends offline, and many haven't met anyone but here, but this is a vibrant, living, breathing community. The site hums. Ultimately, I missed that hum. I came back, resumed writing, and last year was invited to be a Featured Writer. The site just kept on humming.

Daily Kos is a place to stay in touch, to learn, to teach, and to relate. It is a place to hone one's political ideas and arguments and to practice one's writing before a live audience, with instant feedback. It's not always pretty. One can become celebrated in a strange online sort of way and one can be embarrassed by making a mistake or being out-argued. One can have one's ego fed by popular acclaim, and one can be humbled by evoking little or no reaction at all. Daily Kos can be inspiring and fascinating and it can be infuriating and mind numbing. But it is always here to inform, to help people organize and be active, and the community is always here when people need it. The community is here when people want it. The community is here when people don't even expect it. The community is here to try, in ways great and small, to make each of us a better person and to make the world a better place for all. To those interested in intellectually honest politics there is no better place anywhere. To those interested in interacting with real people who are just trying to figure out how to negotiate an increasingly complicated political and cultural terrain, there is no better place anywhere. Not because of Markos or any other front pager or any collection of front pagers or any collection of popular diarists or commenters. There is no better place because of everyone. There is no better place because of you. Like any real community, like life itself, faces and names will come and go but Daily Kos will keep on humming. Because of you. Because of all who are yet to arrive and begin participating. Daily Kos is all of you. Daily Kos is what you make of it. It can soar and it can wallow. Often it does both on the same day. Often it does both in the same thread. Daily Kos is what people make of it. Daily Kos is people.

Golden Gate Bridge
This land was made for you and me ... (Laurence Lewis)
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