Last word: resistance - RSA

Last word: resistance

Last Word

  • Picture of Vibha Venkatesha
    Vibha Venkatesha
    Researcher and Writer
  • Democracy and governance


Advocate, researcher and writer Vibha Venkatesha discusses how her activism developed growing up in the suburbs of Detroit in the wake of the 9/11attacks. After the 2016 US election, Venkatesha organised rallies against President Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’. But she realised that the issue of racial justice overlapped with reproductive and climate justice, and that institutional power had been diluted. She argues that the perspectives of those directly impacted by injustice must be heard in institutions including government offices or the UN headquarters. 

Reading time

Two minutes

One young activist’s growing understanding of the shifting landscapes of opposition and power

Vibha Venkatesha is an advocate, researcher and writer based on Ohlone land now known as Oakland, California. She founded the Amnesty International USA National Youth Collective, helped develop the Amnesty Global YouthPowerAction Network and led the drafting committee for The Hague Youth Declaration of Human Rights.


My activism was born out of the global rise in ethno-nationalist rhetoric and violence in the wake of 9/11. A deep love for my community, a working-class and immigrant-heavy neighbourhood in Detroit’s suburbs, shaped both my identity and an inherent solidarity with and desire for justice. But there was hate there, too, and I still cross certain streets to avoid the places where I was assaulted or called slurs. It was a turbulent time to grow up brown in America. I didn’t know anything about human rights back then. All I knew was that I loved my friends, and I wanted change. So, I became an activist.

In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, my community faced another spike in hate. By then, I had the tools to fight back — whether by organising hundreds to rally against Executive Order 13769 (which suspended the admission of refugees from several predominantly Muslim countries) or campaigning for my university to cease sharing student information with ICE, the agency that enforces US immigration. We found solidarity and fought back together against a tide of beliefs we knew we could not stand for. We were lauded for our resilience, courage, and resistance. It felt easy to identify the opposition and unite against it.

But no issue exists in isolation, whether racial justice, reproductive justice, climate justice; these causes overlap and are rooted in deeply entrenched systems of oppression and harm. The resistance we began to see was the resistance of institutions, and even of the movements themselves, as they became co-opted and diluted by those in power. We found ourselves set against those who had once risen up against the status quo but now stood to benefit from it. From bureaucratic red tape to indifference and inertia to outright opposition to change, we now faced the same systemic harm but whispered instead of shouted.

To build a better world, we must commit to dismantling barriers to progress internally as much as externally. The more I find myself in powerful rooms, whether government offices or UN headquarters, the more I look around and wonder: who is missing from this table? What perspectives are we not hearing? What keeps them from the table and how do we change that?

When our activism isn’t just for show, when the voices of those most directly impacted by injustice are centred, heard and valued, only then can we channel the power of resistance into meaningful change.

Vibha Venkatesha is an advocate, researcher and writer based on Ohlone land now known as Oakland, California. She founded the Amnesty International USA National Youth Collective, helped develop the Amnesty Global YouthPowerAction Network and led the drafting committee for The Hague Youth Declaration of Human Rights.

This feature first appeared in RSA Journal Issue 2 2024.

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