- Pittsburgh-based anti-war and social justice center
Located in Pittsburgh and named after a prominent 20th-century Trappist monk and pacifist, the Thomas Merton Center (TMC) was founded in 1972 by Molly Rush (a Catholic anti-war, civil and women’s rights activist) and Larry Kessler (an anti-war, anti-poverty activist). Its mission is “to build a consciousness of values and to raise the moral questions involved in the issues of war, poverty, racism, classism, economic justice, human rights, and environmental justice.” Toward that end, the Center “engages people of diverse philosophies and faiths who find common ground in the nonviolent struggle to bring about a more peaceful and just world.”
TMC started as an anti-Vietnam War protest organization but quickly expanded its scope to include also issues related to racism and poverty. Moreover, it provided seminars “on contemplation … nonviolence and … simplicity in lifestyle.” TMC staff members also organized the first Pittsburgh chapter of Amnesty International, and in 1980 they established the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
As the Eighties progressed, TMC organized delegations to Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador in conjunction with Witness for Peace, a group that vehemently opposed President Reagan’s efforts to stop the spread of Communism in Latin America. During the 1980s as well, the Center protested the construction of Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, which was funded by the Pentagon. Moreover, TMC’s River City Campaign used weekly vigils, leaflet distribution, and civil disobedience to challenge the activities of nuclear weapons producers in the United States. TMC members in the ’80s were often arrested for their participation in demonstrations against such concerns as nuclear arms, the B-1 bomber, and apartheid in South Africa.
Following are some of the major projects and organizations that TMC has administered or collaborated with since 2017:
- The Anti-War/Anti-Drone Committee organizes rallies, marches, vigils, teach-ins, conferences, media outreach, and the promotion of legislation whose ultimate purpose is “to end U.S. wars and occupations.”
- The Book’Em: Books to Prisoners Project is an all-volunteer, nonprofit initiative that sends “free educational books and quality reading material” to prison inmates in Pennsylvania.
- The Casa San Jose Organizing Project is “a Latino immigrant organization” in Southwest Pennsylvania which believes that “every human being has the right to a quality [taxpayer-funded public] education and the freedom to live with dignity regardless of immigration status.”
- The Divest from Fossil Fuels campaign seeks to persuade the City of Pittsburgh to “immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuels,” and to “divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds.”
- The Eco Justice Working Group is “dedicated to issues of environmental rights,” on the premise that poor and nonwhite communities suffer disproportionate harm from the effects of pollution and carbon emissions.
- Fight For Lifers West is “dedicated to supporting people sentenced to life [in prison] without parole and their loved ones while striving to improve the criminal justice system,” which TMC views as a racist institution.
- A related initiative backed by TMC, the Pittsburgh chapter of the Human Rights Coalition Fed Up!, is “dedicated to upholding the rights of prisoners.”
- Friends of the Harmed collaborates with researchers, concerned citizens, and local grassroots groups to “provide support and direct aid to individuals, families, and communities in Western [Pennsylvania] who have been negatively impacted by Unconventional Natural Gas Development, also known as fracking.”
- Similarly, the Marcellus Shale Protest Group is a Western Pennsylvania alliance that is “building a broad movement to stop the destruction of our environment and communities” by means of fracking for oil and gas.
- The Greater Pittsburgh Interfaith Coalition “works to promote a sense of unity among Pittsburgh faith leaders by convening diverse religious faith communities to share resources [and] foster dialogue.”
- The Pittsburgh Campaign for Democracy Now! was formed in early 2003 with the goal of bringing the program Democracy Now! to a radio station in Pittsburgh.
- Pittsburgh 350 is the Pittsburgh chapter of the international 350.org movement, which promotes the implementation of “intergovernmental regulations” – such as a cap-and-trade program – “to counteract global warming.”
- Pittsburgh for CEDAW “aims to bring the Convention to End all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to Pittsburgh to hold our city government accountable to the rights of all women.”
- Pittsburghers For Public Transit is a volunteer, grassroots organization of transit riders, drivers and supporters that “advocates for public mass transit because it’s essential for healthy environments, economies, and communities.” Moreover, PFPT believes that “transit is a human right,” meaning that “everyone should have access to safe, affordable, and environmentally-sustainable transit operated by union drivers paid living wages.”
- Stop Sexual Assault in the Military strives to “warn potential recruits, female and male, that enlisting in any branch of the U.S. military puts them at high risk of being sexually assaulted.”
To help promote its agendas and perspectives as effectively as possible, TMC publishes The New People, a monthly newspaper that keeps activists informed about current actions, campaigns, and events.
Each year since 1972, TMC has presented its Thomas Merton Award to individuals and organizations deemed worthy of recognition for their efforts on behalf of peace and justice. Some of the more noteworthy winners of this prize have been Joan Baez, Daniel Berrigan, Father Roy Bourgeois, Helen Caldicott, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Dorothy Day, Ron Dellums, Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Dick Gregory, Kathy Kelly, Dennis Kucinich, Winona LaDuke, Barbara Lee, Bill McKibben, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Cindy Sheehan, Martin Sheen, Studs Terkel, Lucius Walker, and Howard Zinn.
Over the course of its history, TMC has received financial backing from the Falk Foundation, the Samberg Family Foundation, and the Vira I. Heinz Endowment.
For additional information on TMC, click here.
Further Reading: “Thomas Merton” (Biography.com); Mission of the Thomas Merton Center (ThomasMertonCenter.org); “History of the Thomas Merton Center” (ThomasMertonCenter.org); Projects of the Thomas Merton Center (ThomasMertonCenter.org); New People Newspaper (ThomasMertonCenter.org); “Past Thomas Merton Awardees” (ThomasMertonCenter.org).