Pittsburgh-based anti-war and social justice center
Oversees a number of projects, including the local chapters of Code Pink for Peace, Food Not Bombs, and the Raging Grannies
Past recipients of its annual "justice" award include Angela Davis, Daniel Berrigan, Marian Wright Edelman, and Howard Zinn
Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Thomas Merton Center (TMC) is a self-described "resource center on various issues ranging from peacemaking and racial and economic justice to the current issues of opposition to global capitalism, queer liberation and developing a feminist consciousness." Named for a prominent 20th Century Trappist monk and Catholic social activist, TMC is a membership organization currently composed of more than 1,000 people.
The Thomas Merton Center was established in 1972 by Larry Kessler, a social justice activist who would go on to create the AIDS Action Committee in the 1980s. The Center started as an anti-Vietnam War protest organization but quickly expanded its scope to include also issues related to racism and poverty. In the 1980s, it organized delegations to Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador in conjunction with Witness for Peace, which vehemently opposed President Reagan's policy of trying to stop the spread of communism in Latin America. Over the years, numerous TMC members have been arrested for their participation in protest demonstrations against such things as nuclear weaponry, the B-1 bomber, and apartheid in South Africa.
TMC organized the first Amnesty International chapter in Pittsburgh. Among the Center's many projects and initiatives are the following:
The Anti-War Committee: A member organization of United for Peace and Justice, this Committee organizes "interfaith vigils, rallies, teach-ins, a speakers bureau, legislative action, media outreach, and other activities to promote peaceful solutions to world conflicts." In 2006 it assisted the ACLU in filing a lawsuit against the Defense Department regarding a terrorist surveillance program.
Azania Heritage International: This is "a community resource on African culture, ethnicity, languages and the economics of radical social change, as well as an empowerment project for Africans and African Americans in Pittsburgh."
Canaries in the Coalfields: This group tries "to build strength in Pittsburgh for the growing movement to transform Pennsylvania … into a leader for green energy practices that allow us to live in harmony with our environment and bring sustainable jobs to our communities."
Community Labor Solidarity Campaign: This initiative "works in solidarity with the labor movement, in some cases doing the things that labor law doesn't allow unions to do, while bridging the gaps between unions and community groups."
Conscience: This project provides support to U.S. soldiers who wish to apply for conscientious objector status in order to avoid military duty. The Center offers legal support and counseling to such individuals, and it organizes efforts to limit military recruiters' access to local high schools.
Fed Up! (the Pittsburgh chapter of the Human Rights Coalition): This project works to change the allegedly abusive conditions in regional prisons.
Food Not Bombs: TMC manages the local chapter of this anti-war, anti-capitalism organization that serves vegetarian food to homeless people and peace activists in an effort to draw attention to the problems of poverty and military conflict around the globe.
The Healthcare Campaign: This now-defunct project worked for the establishment of universal, government-funded healthcare for all Americans.
New Voices Pittsburgh: An advocate of women's unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand, this project is devoted to "building a local movement for Reproductive Justice" and elevating the "powerful voices of women of color on human rights, reproductive oppression and the totality of our experiences as women of color."
Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee: This group was founded to "foster information, dialogue and activities connected with the Palestinian People's struggle for Independence."
Raging Grannies: TMC directs the local chapter of this radical women's group that aims to "bring about the social changes that are required in order to end economic oppression, particularly of women and children, and to end racial inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, and arms proliferation."
RESYST: This project seeks to "radicalize queer communities" through staged protests and street theater.
War-profiteering Education and Action Network: This initiative "aims to research, expose and confront the powerful corporate interests behind the war machine." Toward this end, it "[examines] the contracts and practices of local war profiteers, produces educational materials, organizes educational events and protests, and coordinates direct community outreach."
In 2004, TMC was a signatory to a letter sent to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, imploring the UN to monitor the American presidential election of that year. Drafted by the organization MADRE, the letter stated that the previous presidential election (four years earlier) "was plagued by allegations of widespread voter disenfranchisement, particularly in the state of Florida … irregular and wrongful purging of voter registration lists and questionable practices and policies relating to balloting, counting and certification procedures."