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Working With Enemies

Andrea Smith Winter Refresher

Her advice sounds incongruous.

When it comes to creating community or building a movement for change Andrea Smith’s advice echoes one of Christianity’s long-held tenants: Love your enemies.

“If you actually want to change the system you can no longer assume permanent enemies,” said Smith, the theme speaker for St. Andrew’s College’s Winter Refresher 2014 held Feb. 27 to March 1.

“We actually have to believe the people who seem to be our enemies today could be out friends tomorrow because, in the end, none of use benefit from this system.”

Smith, a Native American and anti-violence activist and scholar who has a strong involvement in community organizing, fuelled the discussion on the event theme of Confronting Racism with Solidarity: Untangling Colonial Webs and Creating New Contexts during three conversations over the course of the conference.

She channelled the theme through approaches to issues ranging from gender violence and restorative justice to ending global oppression and the ongoing colonial influences in society.

She emphasized the importance of looking beyond short-term goals or privileges and focus on long-term interests by build solidarity in places and with people where it might conventionally seem impossible.

“It’s not enough to talk to people who think like us, we have to talk to people who don’t think like us,” she said, citing examples of how cross-cultural, cross-community organizations have helped to create change against larger entities or corporations.

 “How to rethink the idea that there are some people who will always be our permanent enemies and we will always be fighting against them and they can never be on our side.”

Smith talked about the need to reframe issues and develop dialogue in order to co-opt the power of “enemies” and draw them into a cause to serve a larger goal that will benefit everyone. She cited examples of U.S. aboriginal people overcoming the stereotypes and colonial attitudes of the broader population to working with members of that same population to create significant change that benefitted both communities.

“We see some fairly small Native groups accomplishing some huge victories against multinational corporations because they did not have the assumption of who their enemy was,” she said.

Smith encouraged her audiences to build a community base through a broad, accountable structure so it can’t be co-opted by outside forces or agendas and to the point where it can influence the agenda, not be sidelined to the margins.

But creating community, building alliances and finding reconciliation doesn’t come without a fight, she said.

“Christians tend to want to skip the cross and go right to the resurrection. You want to identify with a victory that happened and not stay at the point of the crucifixion, the point of colonial domination, the pain, the suffering, the oppression and deal with that. We just want to skip all that.”

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