Interview with Susan Oehler of Today in Iraq

At the end of last year I came across an excellent website, "Today in Iraq." What caught my eye was an email about "This day in history of Iraq" that highlighted the handshake between Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein on December 20, 1983. Six bloggers make up the site - all with diverse backgrounds and perspecitves thereby producing a lot of depth and nuance. I interviewed one of the bloggers, Susan Oehler and then asked her fellow bloggers to comment at the end of the interview. My hope in sharing their work is not only to provide you with a useful source of information and analysis on Iraq but also inspire you to take action and do what you can to end the war.

Kevin Zeese: Describe yourself, your background (activist and professional) and your work.

Susan Oehler: I am middle aged and work as a pediatric audiologist, which I have been doing since 1983.  I was born and raised in Cincinnati, lived in Canada for seven years, and have been living in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina since 1997.  I moved here because I dearly loved kayaking down whitewater rivers, and I love the mountain culture of music, dance and crafts.  I find I do not have time for those activities anymore.  I am trying to stop an optional war for bogus reasons, and I am trying to save my country. 

I was always aware of the environment (being that I did whitewater kayaking, it is impossible not to be very aware of the environment) and I was always somewhat active in those issues.  And I was always aware of some of the dirty deeds our US government has been involved in over the decades, with the Iran-contra affair being one of the more prominent one.  And having lived in Canada for seven years, some of our social problems with violence and lack of adequate health care and other social issues, were also very clear to me.  But I was an occasional activist, since I was heavily into kayaking, which eats up a lot of time and a lot of gasoline (which I also always realized was part of the problem).  It was 9/11 that prompted me to pay more attention to what the US government was up to, and what the rest of the world was thinking and feeling about our country.  It also prompted me to pay attention to our corporate media and what they were doing.  Frankly, I had not watched too much TV nor followed mainstream newspapers - I was too busy.  But when I did start to pay attention, I was APPALLED.

I was also seriously concerned about having paper trail, verified voting in the USA.

KZ: Describe the "Today in Iraq" blog.  What you do for it and what others do for it? How did it get started?

SO: Today in Iraq was started in June 2003 by YankeeDoodle. I started reading it right from the first, because I wanted to know what was happening in Iraq, particularly to the Iraqi civilians.  There was so little information out there, and he would gather the information together in one blog for a near-daily posting.  I don't know how he did this by himself for so long. 

YD (yankeedoodle) also called the war on Iraq has having been lost by the US in June 2003, and he is former military.  I called the war on Iraq has having been lost by the US in August 2003.  YD lives in Washington state, I believe.

YD had a loss of a family member in fall 2004 and at that time a man who called himself Not Anonymous started posting in the comments section.  NA (Not Anonymous) said he was Iraqi and that he had lost his wife, child, and six family members in US bombings.  He never said where he was exactly, but what NA did was post lots and lots of articles on the war in Iraq, many outside the US press.  He really did help to inform a lot of us of what was happening there, but more than that he gave an interpretation to events that we would probably never figured out on our own.  In the November 2004 assault on Fallujah, someone said this must be hard to just report on, and NA said "my heart and mind are bleeding".  In spite of his great pain, he still reached out to us to inform us of what was happening without anger or bitterness.  He also helped to fill in when YD was not able to do so.

It was shortly after this that Matt and Friendly Fire were recruited to cover the daily postings to the blog on some days.  Matt is in Germany and Friendly Fire is in Ireland.  They actually met for the first time (face to face) today.  In September of 2005, YD was getting sorta worn out with posting, so two more people were recruited to post daily postings on the blog... myself and whisker.  Whisker is covering Thursdays, and I cover Fridays and Saturdays, usually.  Matt and Friendly Fire (ff) cover the other four days.  We cover for each other when we have to, and I feel we are all pretty committed to keeping the blog going.  We are all free to post our own editorial comments as we want, and YD does that also.  Sometimes Helena Cobban does a post too... a round up from her own blog. Helena is the only "real" reporter in the group.  Her blog is Just World News. 

(I happened to know the first names of all these people, but I'm not sure if they want to share them. I have not met any of them.)

So, it got started by one guy out west who has passed it on to others.  It seems we all have our different slants on what is going on: whisker, for example, covers US injuries, oil, and summaries of "the forgotten war."  Matt and I post long posts with lots of opinion pieces, and I also include everything I can find on Iraqi civilians.

KZ: What do you think needs to be done regarding the war with Iraq?

SO: We (the USA and coalition forces) need to leave in a systematic orderly fashion.  We need to help, hope and pray the UN can help the Iraqi people sort things out, and we need to hope and pray the war does not spread. We need to be done by 2007, with no permanent bases and no US companies left behind (the companies can go back if they are invited).  We need to pay off every cent of Iraq's debt to everybody immediately. I would recommend that the US pay reparations, but I think handing out billions of dollars will make the violence worse.

We need to ask forgiveness.

KZ: How else do you work for an end of the Iraq War?

SO: I work with WNC Peace Coalition, and we have a Peace Rally in March.  We plan this so it does not conflict with Fayetteville rally.  In 2004, we had Jimmy Massey (local) as a speaker, and in 2005, we had Cindy Sheehan as a speaker.  We also have several different events during the year, like candlelight vigils on the square.  We help out with other groups that are working on peace and social justice issues, and we help send buses to every major event within 200 miles... like SOA, Y12, and Fayetteville rally.  We send out announcements and a calendar to a list serve.  I help with publicity with this group.  The WNC Peace Coalition is a member group of United for Peace and Justice, so I sit in on this group's meetings also, and do what I can to help them.  I am also connected to NC Peace Action, but don't do much work for them.

I also work with the Progressive Democrats of America, Progressive Democrats of Buncombe County, and Progressive Democrats of NC PAC.  I have worked on campaigns, and we have here in Asheville (HAPPILY) a progressive city council.  Other campaigns have not worked out as well.  I work with the local Democratic Party, and am often dismayed at how the majority of them think we have to stay and "fix" Iraq.  They seemingly don't realize that Bush & company have no intention of leaving, ever. We have recently started a group working on the Department of Peace initiative and another that is working on stopping transportation of nuclear materials though our area. We are connecting with a group from NC, GA, TN that is trying to stop Interstate 3 - who's sole purpose is to transport nuclear materials from Y12 to Savannah River site.

As far as legislators go, ours are hopeless. Nonetheless, I write them on a nearly weekly basis, I call most weekdays, and I visited DC to lobby three times last year. I was in DC for the inauguration protests and the Sept 24th protests. I keep hoping that more people will want to join me in this, because I do feel we need to keep the STREET HEAT on, even on those Republicans who are totally behind Bush and his policies. You can bet that the ones who are against the war are getting their share of pro-war Street Heat!!

I have sometimes organized post card campaigns - recently to Hillary Clinton - about antiwar issues. Next month, we are going to try having "movie nights" - one in a local church and one at the library.

KZ: What lessons have you learned from your activism?

SO: That we are in deep, deep trouble. That we are in serious danger of losing our country. Not only are the choices our current government making highly, highly immoral, they are also stupid. The aftereffects will last for decades. I just feel I have to do something, every single day, to stop our country from the path it is on currently. I feel I need to do this so I can say "at least, I tried."

I also strongly feel that this needs to be peaceful, nonviolent resistance. I believe that the seed leads to the planet which leads to the fruit (a thought of Gandhi's, I think)... and if we want to have a peaceful world one day, we can only get there by peaceful moral means.

And we have got to get there before someone idiot starts up a nuclear war, and with the crazies we have running the place, that someone could be our president.

One thing I didn't mention above is how corporations play into all of this.... they are a huge source of our problems, since they are only acting in ways that make them more money, the human or moral consequences be damned. And corporations are controlling our corporate media.

I learned that we have to be our own media and our own political activists and that it is going to take a lot of effort to turn things around.

I asked Susan's fellow bloggers on Iraq Today to comment. Below is a comment from one of them: Friendly Fire: I am the only non-American blogger on Today in Iraq. I came across Today in Iraq sometime in early 2004. What I saw was YD ploughing a lonely furrow in his reporting of the unreported bad news that was emanating from Iraq, he also had many excellent rants and I felt that I had a connection with him. He got very bad news in 2004 when his sister passed away and Matt stepped up to the plate and YD invited me around Christmas of last year. YD stopped his regular blogging in the fall, who would blame him for posting all the bad news and seeing reports of ex-colleagues being killed and injured in a mindless escapade? Helena, Susan and Whisker came on board then.

I marched against the war in Dublin and what gobsmacked me about US intentions was Colin Powell's speech to the UN before the war was launched. I lived in the UK for many years and I really detest Tony Blair for what he has done.

Unfortunately for all of us, I think this blog will be around for a considerable number of years because I cannot see a change in policy if the Democrats gain power at the next elections. Why? A summary in five words: Hilary Clinton and Joe Lieberman.

Why do I do it?

Well YD emailed me and Matt a while ago when it was just the three of us. He said he was sorry he ever created this blog. I understand that view now.

Kevin Zeese is Director of Democracy Rising (see www.DemocracyRising.US) and a candidate for U.S. Senate (see