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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thomas Merton Center Signs on to the Chambersburg Declaration Center Becomes the Newest Member of the PA Community Rights Network

For Immediate Release

Contact: Wanda Guthrie Phone: 724-327-2767
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Pittsburgh, PA (September 5, 2012) The Thomas Merton Center became the latest organization to sign onto The Chambersburg Declaration, which denounces the concentration of “wealth and greater governing power through the exploitation of human and natural communities,” and declares that “environmental and economic sustainability can be achieved only when the people affected by governing decisions are the ones who make them.”

The Chambersburg Declaration calls for the convening of a People’s Constitutional Convention with delegates chosen from every County and Township “representing municipal communities, who will propose constitutional changes to secure the inalienable right to local, community self-government free of state and corporate preemption.” The Board of Directors decided to become a part of the Pennsylvania Community Rights Network and sign onto the Declaration at the same time they are launching a new Environmental Justice Committee, according Wanda Guthrie, a member of the Board. “We recognize that the destruction of ecosystems is not simply a question of conservation and environmental regulation. People and all living things depend for their lives and health on the protection of nature. We are not separate from the natural world, but a dependent part of it. Today, law-makers sacrifice our natural habitat to serve corporations and the privileged few who become wealthy at the cost of everyone else’s health, safety, welfare and quality of life. There is no justice in that, and it is time for the people affected to take charge.”

In 2010, citizens from more than a dozen counties met in Chambersburg on Saturday, February 20th , to initiate plans to convene a Pennsylvania People’s Constitutional Convention made up of delegates from municipalities across the state. The Community Rights Network Conference brought together men and women who have struggled for years to assert the rights of citizens to protect the health, welfare and environment of their communities, only to be met with a barrage of legislative preemptions and threats of corporate lawsuits. “Not one of our 12.5 million Pennsylvanians enjoys the fundamental right to self-government in the communities where they live,” commented Ben Price, Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

“In January 2008, attorney general Tom Corbett’s office declared in Commonwealth Court that ‘there is no inalienable right to local self-government’ Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly think he’s wrong, and it’s time for our State Constitution to reflect the will of the people,” Price said.

Over the past few years, more than two dozen communities across Pennsylvania have adopted local self-governance ordinances that challenge the authority of the state to preempt local decision-making on behalf of corporations. In response, the state and corporations have conspired to adopt anti-democratic legislation that preempts and forbids local decision-making, and have used the courts to sue a handful of these municipalities.

Some cases have been dismissed, some communities have prevailed and others are ongoing, but state agencies, municipal solicitors, state legislators and corporate lawyers have erected a legal fortress to protect corporate privileges against democratic governance at the community level. The need for constitutional change has been recognized by a growing number of people and organizations across the state. Of highest importance to the convening of any constitutional convention are the manner of its convening, the scope of its powers and the choosing of delegates. The Pennsylvania Constitution recognizes that “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.” (Article I, Section 2) It also cautions us “To guard against the transgressions of the high powers which we have delegated, we declare that everything in this article is excepted out of the general powers of government and shall forever remain inviolate.” (Article I, Section 25) And yet, the legislature and courts, to whom we, the people, have delegated high powers, claim that the “inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper” may be exercised by the people only if and when the legislature places a question on the ballot to call for a convention or to allow the people to adopt an amendment proposed by the very government the people want to alter, reform or abolish.

The Chambersburg Declaration is a common-sense assessment of the obstacles to Pennsylvanians realizing their aspirations right there in the communities where they live. Placing a constitutional convention in the hands of real people representing their municipal communities is the innovative solution that is demanded. 

In 1776, when Pennsylvania revolutionaries drafted the first state constitution, they asserted that: 
“all government ought to be instituted and supported for the security and protection of the community as such…government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people, nation or community; and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single man, family, or set of men, who are only part of that community: And…the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish government in such manner as shall be by that community judged most conducive to the public weal.”

The Thomas Merton Center recognizes that it is time to realize those principled aspirations.

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