Over the past month, in preparation for Colombia, I have been reading both Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and a collection of essays, Peace, Democracy, Human Rights in Colombia, edited by Christopher Welna and Gustavo Gallon. In his book on popular education, Freire states, “The oppressor is solidarity with the oppressed only when[s]he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labour- when [s]he stops making pious, sentimental and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love.” (50).
But what is an act of love, especially in relation to solidarity? Love is a fuzzy term. It evokes feelings of warm and comfort, hugs and besos all around, yet what does the real, solid, concrete action of love look like? What are the political results of love as opposed to hatred? What do love and solidarity look like translated into political policy?
I think we are sometimes too quick to divide things into categories: this is love, this is oppression, this is violence, this is peace. Instead, within each of those groupings, there are nuances and a blurring and a crossing of lines. Sometimes, and this is where the second book I have reading comes into play, systems and structures are in place that do not allow human dignity, which is a form of love, to flourish. The anthology explores the situation in Colombia by examining peace, including various peace processes, democracy and structures of governance within the country and human rights. Together, the articles provide a fascinating looks at the complexity and layers of life and governance within Colombia. Various perspectives, from culture to political economy to U.S. policy to history to organized crime to guerrillas to simple misunderstandings, paint a picture of a unique situation with no easy or obvious answers.
It is not that there are certain people in Colombia, or anywhere, who are totally good or totally evil, but there are systems and ways of thinking which allow and encourage actions that benefit some more than others. For example, in “Political Reform after 1991,” authors Eduardo Pizarro and Ana Maria Bejarano, examine a serious of reforms that took place in Colombia’s political system and challenge the effectiveness of these reforms in encouraging democracy in the state. They argue that reforms, in an attempt to encourage the participation of more people, have splintered the system and instead of enhancing political will, have diminished it. However, they postulate that with more reforms to electoral rules, the system can be significantly reformed and stable leadership with broader representation will occur. However, other authors argue that the government itself is besieged with the lawlessness taking place across the country, and unless human rights are first ensured, political reform can have no meaning. All of these examples show the complexity of the situation. There is no one easy answer where we can say that this is an “act of love.”
Yet somehow I think these acknowledging and embracing these complexities allows us to act in a more effective way because we have to carefully think about what we are doing. Just as there is no one answer to the causes of conflict, there is no one answer or solution. Instead, multiple perspectives, experiences and, most of all, creativity are required. Love can be acted out in a myriad of ways within public policy and grassroots action. This is where true solidarity, combined with praxis, is imperative.
Freire defines, and reiterates the concept of praxis as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” numerous times throughout his book. We must confront reality critically, using theory and political analysis, but we must also be willing to act with those who are impacted, allowing them to guide our understanding of their situation, in all its complexities. There are multiple ways to view the world, views which come from a particular place, understanding and interaction with history. Perhaps an act of love is to think critically about our own place in history, understanding that, as we are all connected, we are all part of the complexity of the problem, and therefore must also be part of the situation. In a Canadian context, this involves carefully examining our free trade agreement with Colombia, as well as the activities of our companies. But an act of love does not stop with merely critical thinking, but moves into action, not action for but action with.
One of the things that I am most excited about for Colombia is exploring the intersections between all of us taking part in the SEED program, those that we will be working with and our experiences and perspectives of conflict and peace. We all bring ourselves into this situation, microcosms of complexity and history, time and experience. What will our actions look like as we grapple with the complexities of Colombia? How will we be changed by engaging in solidarity? How will those that we interact with be impacted by our presence? How can we combine love and public policy?