2003 Jack Green Civil Liberties Award Honoree
Tanya Brannan has been an activist since the 1970s when she began working in the women’s movement, community organizing in the Haight-Ashbury, and fighting to end U.S. intervention in Central America. After traveling with a number of delegations to El Salvador, Tanya then moved to Central America for four years, where she worked as an organizer, bodyguard and women’s rights activist in Guatemala and El Salvador.
Tanya returned to Sonoma County in 1990 when her best friend and environmental activist, Judi Bari, was car bombed. Within minutes of the bombing, the FBI attempted to frame her for the bombing that was clearly meant to kill her.
For the next twelve years, Tanya directed the Redwood Summer Justice Project, which conducted Judi Bari’s lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland Police for federal civil rights violations. In June 2002, after a six-week trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $4.4 million, the largest-ever civil rights award against the FBI.
In 1991, Tanya founded the Purple Berets, a grassroots women’s rights group dedicated to standing with women who are standing up to sexist violence and discrimination. “If I learned only one thing in Guatemala it was this,” Tanya states: “if we’re serious about changing the world, we have to change women’s world. It was with that goal in mind that the Purple Berets was formed.”
During 1992 in Sonoma County, only 11 of 181 forcible rapes reported to police ended in rape convictions. 1,998 domestic violence calls resulted in only 30 cases charged as felonies. The Purple Berets set out to change a criminal justice system they felt was not just a failure, but an active collaborator in maintaining the epidemic level of violence against women. With the recent victory in the domestic violence homicide case of María Teresa Macias, that’s exactly what The Purple Berets accomplished – changing federal civil rights law that has historically denied equal protection to women. They also changed local domestic violence policies, getting more women and Spanish-speaking police officers, new leadership and a new medical services provider in the local jail, and organized against police brutality. “The Purple Berets are living proof that a small number of people willing to take audacious action can have a huge impact” says Tanya. “At a time when the media constantly tells us that activism doesn’t work, we’re here to show you that’s a lie.”