Sunday, August 9, 2009

On giving your opponent a headache

Last week I wrote about some of Al Gioradno's reporting on the ground from Honduras. Namely, I was interested in the fact that coup resisters in Honduras were learning from the Otpur movement in Serbia.

This week, Giordano provides a first-hand account of advice given to the Honduran resisters by Ivan Marovich, the "Serbian resistance veteran who had been invited by local and national anti-coup organizations to share his experiences." Namely, here's his response to a question about how to give your opponent a headache. I think its an amazing lesson for all organizers - no matter what battle is raging.

The whole game is to calculate the next steps, to put the adversary in a position where he can’t react well.<...>

This is what we called a “Dilemma Action.”<...>

So what we wanted to have is a dilemma action in which the opponent is going to regret whatever he does.

The fist thing that we did, when we were still ten people, is we took a big barrel and a baseball bat. We wrote on the barrel: “Money for Milosevic.” It said we’re collecting money for Milosevic’s retirement. If you have money, put in the barrel. If you don’t have money, beat on the barrel. And Milosevic’s photo was on the barrel. So we put it on the street and walked away.

People walking by read the sign and began banging the barrel. Because of that noise, four more people came. And when they read it everyone started banging the barrel. This made a very loud noise. Finally somebody called the police. The police came and asked, “Who’s barrel is this?” Nobody knew. The police didn’t know what to do.

If the police had left the barrel there, people would keep banging the barrel. If they took the barrel, well, that is not their job. Finally somebody ordered them to take the barrel. We took photos of them and gave them to the media which reported, “POLICE ARREST BARREL.” So whatever they would do, they were going to regret it. And they regretted it because the very next day every town in the country had a barrel in its town square.

This is an example of how you create headaches for the adversary. The system, the regime, they have procedures. They have the way they do things. They don’t rely on creativity. They don’t rely on taking initiative. They totally rely on their procedures and on following orders. They don’t know how to react in certain situations. And that’s when they start making mistakes.

As the saying goes, never interrupt your opponent when he’s making mistakes.

Marovich goes on to describe how the system likes demonstrations - they know how to react to them. So in order to be effective in opposition - a movement needs to develop alternative actions that catch the system off-guard without a procedural playbook.

I can't help but think about what a headache the whole Obama administration has been for the Republicans. They need to oppose the Supreme Court nominee - but in doing so, they alienate most women and Latino voters in the country. They need to hang onto their base - but in doing so, they are required to kow-tow to the Limbaughs of the world and to the birthers. Its been an amazing spectacle to watch.

But now, I wonder if progressives don't need to try and figure out how to give the Max Baucus' and Ben Nelson's of the world a headache. Got any ideas?

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