Like most nonviolent struggle groups, Otpor was “winging it”, making things up as they went forward, but for all the progress they were making in recruitment, a year and a half into their movement, they were no closer to removing Sloban Milosevic than they had been when they started.
That’s when they discovered the works of Gene Sharp, who had been studying nonviolent struggle for forty years. Suddenly they didn’t have to make things up, they could study what had worked in the past. Plus, they were about to be introduced to one of Sharp’s biggest disciples.
The U.S. government had taken an interest in Otpor, and were secretly helping them fund some of their expenses. Through the government, Otpor’s leaders were urged to go to Budapest to meet Robert Helvey. Helvey, a former American army colonel, had at that time been working for decades with Gene Sharp on nonviolent struggle.
Helvey taught the Otpor group that the key goal for nonviolent struggle groups was to “remove the pillars” that held up the opposition.
Here’s how Tina Rosenberg explained it in Join the Club: “a regime stays in power…through the obedience of the people it governs. Without the consent of the governed, power disappears. The goal of a democracy movement should be to withdraw that consent. Helvery compared a government to a building to a government held up by various pillars; it was the job of democratic activists to pull out the pillars. Otpor needed a strategic estimate of the pillars holding Milosevic in power, and then a plan for pulling each pillar into the opposition camp.”
That’s what we need to do. The oil companies are more powerful than any government, including our own. They control a major segment of our politicians (virtually all Republicans in office and some “Blue Dog” Democrats). How the hell do we beat that?! Remove the pillars that hold them up. All the support they get can be withdrawn. Once the banks and other business leaders realize that their money will give them no refuge from climate change, they’ll change sides. Then all those politicians beholden to the banks and the oil companies will have the bankers telling them to vote for everyone’s best interest, and not the oil companies. The employees of the oil companies, most of whom live in areas already devastated by the early manifestations of climate change, will realize they’re working for the bad guys, and that pillar will not be sturdy. Finally the oil CEOs, and the oil-friendly politicians, will have their own friends and families making a stand against them.
This movement needs a strategic vision that will do that.