Activist Profile: MANJU RAJENDRAN, Durham

Manju is a queer South Asian immigrant working-class community organizer, artist, writer, cook, and botany nerd. Growing up in North Carolina, her father organized with the local NAACP chapter and her mother was active in public schools. Inspired by their civic engagement around racial justice in education, Manju began doing social justice facilitation and organizing when she was just 12 years old. Her work was recognized at UNC Chapel Hill with the Davis-Putter Scholarship for young organizers.

Nowadays you can find Manju working with AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance) and Ready the Ground Training Team. Manju spent several years helping establish her family’s food justice restaurant in Chapel Hill, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café. Her 25 years of experience in liberation education, grassroots organizing, movement-building strategy, fundraising and communications has helped numerous organizations including Hip Hop Against Racist War, Southerners On New Ground, NC Lambda Youth Network, NC Peace and Justice Coalition, War Resisters League, and the ACLU of North Carolina. You can read Manju’s writing at The News and Observer.

Manju was recently arrested at the NC legislature during a reading of House Bill 17, which reduced Democratic Governor-Elect Roy Cooper’s authority. While nursing her eight month old, she stood up and called out over the balcony, "Mr. Senator. Mr. Senator-- As a resident of the state of North Carolina I cannot in good conscience allow this rupture of democracy to go on.” She was arrested with 45 other North Carolina residents.

When asked, "What issues are crucial to you to bring our society closer to justice and equity for all?" Manju replied, “The urgent issues we’re facing now were what urged me to put my body on the line at the North Carolina legislature a couple weeks ago. Like my sisters across this state, I want the freedom to make decisions for my body, the resources to take care of my family, and the brighter future my daughter deserves.”

She continued, “This moment is ripe. North Carolinians are showing up with plenty of energy, eager to turn things around. I hear my neighbors feeling really passionate about winning a healthcare plan that keeps us well, reinvesting in our public schools and libraries, creating better jobs with dignity and living wages, winning campaigns for racial and gender equity.”

Manju concluded, “Of course, this means we’ll have to demand disinvestment from unjust policing, end privatization of our public needs, stop allowing corporations to poison our rivers, and reallocate resources that are being used to harm us, towards the greater good.”

About AORTA –

AORTA is a worker-owned cooperative devoted to strengthening movements for social justice and a solidarity economy. We work as consultants and facilitators to expand the capacity of cooperative, collective, and community based projects through education, training, and planning. We base our work on an intersectional approach to liberation because we believe that true change requires uprooting all systems of oppression. To learn more, please visit aorta.coop.

About Vimala’s Curryblossom Café –

Vimala grew up in Bombay where she learned to cook from family, street vendors & friends. In 1994, a single mother of three, Vimala started cooking donation-based community dinners in her Chapel Hill home. In June 2010, thanks to the support of many local microlenders like you, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe was born! When you visit the restaurant please consider donating to their Everybody Eats fund. Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe believes in making healthy, delicious food accessible to all people, with deep trust in our community’s commitment to food justice. To learn more about Vimala’s Curryblossom Café, please visit curryblossom.com.