Sara Nelson

Executive Director & Co-founder

Sara Nelson is the executive director and co-founder of the Romero Institute and former national executive director and co-founder of the Christic Institute.

A former TV reporter and news anchor, Sara was educated at Cornell University and U.C. Berkeley. She served as the National Labor Secretary for the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Washington D.C. in the mid to late 1970s. Responding to the concerns of NOW women, she assembled the Karen Silkwood Fund and launched the national campaign to find out who killed Silkwood, a young union leader working at a plutonium factory in Oklahoma who was run off the road while delivering proof of irregularities and safety violations to a New York Times reporter. The ensuing investigation and jury trial, on behalf of Silkwood’s children, won a record-setting $10.5 million judgment, and prevented the construction of new nuclear plants for more than 30 years.

Encouraged by their victory in the Silkwood case, Sara, lead counsel Daniel Sheehan, and Father William Davis formed the Christic Institute to combine their efforts as champions of social justice. At its height, it became a national organization with 50 staff members in five offices supporting hundreds of action teams. From 1980 to 1992, Christic litigated several landmark cases, including:

  • Representing victims of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster 
    (PIRC v. Three Mile Island
  • Defending Catholic workers who provided sanctuary to Salvadoran refugees in the American Sanctuary Movement
    (U.S. v. Stacey Lynn Merkt, et al.
  • Seeking damages from the KKK and American Nazi Party members for the murder of civil rights demonstrators in the Greensboro Massacre
    (Waller v. Butkovich)
  • Bringing charges against 29 people involved in the civil case associated with the Iran-Contra Affair
    (Avirgan v. Hull, et al

In 1999, Sara served as the executive director of former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev’s & former United States Secretary of State James Baker III’s State of the World Forum in San Francisco. The annual event brought together 1,000 former world leaders to meet with dignitaries, the world’s most prominent business executives, scientists and Nobel Laureates, activists and national public interest organization chiefs, religious leaders, and agency heads of the United Nations in an effort to collectively discuss global problems and solutions.

Sara formed the Romero Institute in 1980 with Christic Institute co-founder Daniel Sheehan. A law and policy center based in Santa Cruz, CA, the Institute exposes and implements solutions to serious threats to the environment, structural injustice, and human and constitutional rights violations.

Current projects include:

Through public education and grassroots organizing, we build the people power necessary to implement big, community-wide solutions to the global climate crisis.

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We partner with the Lakota to secure their rights to autonomy and self-determination, protect sacred lands and water from pipelines and other imminent threats, and win the return of children seized by South Dakota’s Department of Social Services.

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