Response to criticisms that deny and erase women’s leadership in Red Braid
By Teresa Dettling
Tonight I got a bullshit Facebook message “warning” me that Red Braid is a “cult.” And you know what? It was not the night to message me that shit. It has been bothering me that our Indigenous Leadership Council is always ignored, that our racialized women members, our trans women members’ leadership and work is being fucking erased with these bullshit accusations! And it occurred to me this is because we are a majority working class woman group. And I am fucking fed up! I put up with a lot of shit in my personal life because I am a woman and I suck it up because I have to always put my daughter first. But not in my political life. I don’t know where this bullshit is coming from, but people who are believing it without questioning it are buying into it because they don’t think low-income Indigenous women, working class queer women, and working-class racialized women and non-binary individuals are real leaders!
Since my daughter was six, I have been a member of the Alliance Against Displacement. Over the past six and a half years, our group has grown to be a majority cis and trans women group with a leadership that includes Indigenous women, racialized women, trans women, and non-binary individuals. And we are also working class. This growth is one of the main reasons we changed our name to Red Braid, because as we have grown and changed, so have our politics. And surprise, surprise, now that we are a majority women group – trans women, queer racialized women, Indigenous women, white settler women, cis women – our group is being slandered as a “cult.” We must be a “cult” because god forbid a group not be led by a cis man or a middle class woman.
Because I have internalized the patriarchy and have had so much to learn, and because I am a white, cis, settler woman, I will also be doing this learning – because of all of this, I have always wanted to stay in the background and support. And my white settler privilege has made it possible that I could stand to the side when I get overwhelmed. But not anymore. I refuse to stand by while my sisters are being slandered, and their work erased and ignored. So, l will say it loud and proud: I am a member of the Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism. And to the people who want to label us a “cult,” I see you for exactly who you are and I feel sorry that you hate working class women so much, but we are not going to be quiet and we are not going to stop fighting with our sisters, supporting our sisters, and organizing with our Indigenous and working class sisters. This woman has had enough of seeing my sisters being slandered, gaslit, and having their hard work being ignored. So, for me grief is not going to be possible. My sisters need me and I will not let them down.
I joined Red Braid when I was a single mom being evicted from SFU student housing. I had no clue what it was to be an activist and thought activists were just another group of people that would look down on me. I grew up in foster care and the way SFU was evicting my whole building was just another reminder that, no matter how hard I tried, I would always be seen as a piece of shit. And I almost gave up until my daughter started crying. In that moment, I realized that what I was willing to accept for myself I was not willing to accept for my child. Red Braid members helped me and the rest of our building (which were all low income students with kids and some mature students) feel confident that we could be leaders and we could stand and say our community had just as much as a right to be there as the single students from wealthy families. I stayed on with Red Braid because I feel most comfortable working with people who are low income like me.
I have a degree, but I will always be an outsider among my peers. I have fucking bowed legs from being malnourished as a child. I was physically and sexually abused as a child. When we went to school, the teachers would encourage other kids to make fun of us. All of my five siblings are addicts and have severe mental health issues. Worse, they have all continued the cycle of abuse with their kids. The two foster sisters I was closest to are dead and so is my foster niece and one of my foster nephews. My family is a fucking graveyard! My daughter will never know any of them! I am fighting to give my child a community of people who are like my foster sisters and my biological siblings before they got so lost in their pain that all they know how to do is lash out. For me, this is about me and myself and my child’s fucking existence.
I refuse to fucking assimilate into a gross middle class professional. How fucking dare people try and say me and my child do not exist. I am dirt poor and I know to the rest of the society, I look like a failure but I had to fucking fight just to get to the point that I rent a one bedroom with my child! I have had to take fucking beatings from the men I dated because it was that or a homeless shelter! I have learned to endure physical and sexual abuse because that’s my reality and I can’t change it. But I refuse to accept this for my child. Fuck anyone who says me and my child do not exist! Fuck anyone who tries to erase all of my families! This is not a fucking game, this is about survival for me and my child. To assimilate into a middle class, capitalist, settler colonial society is to shit on all of the family and friends I have lost! It’s to say their lives were meaningless! I refuse to forget a single one of them!
Red Braid is what I give to my daughter. It is through our community that she gets to know of our two families (foster and biological) that were eradicated by capitalism and settler colonialism. I have survived far worse than most people can imagine.* Red Braid will be my daughter’s inheritance, as it is her community and family today. And Red Braid is the tombstone I build everyday for my biological and foster family members and childhood friends lost.
* Note: This statement is collected from three posts Teresa wrote in different places on Facebook in the week following the Stewart Squat. In the original post Teresa said here that she has “survived far worse than you.” Teresa says, “I apologize for saying that. It’s not appropriate for a white person to assume what an Indigenous person has suffered; I did not mean to claim I have suffered more than an Indigenous person.”
For context, please read our Q&A about Red Braid and the Stewart Squat.