Cynthia Banas & Kathleen Rumpf: Truth Tellers

October 6, 2010 - 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Two long-time CNY peace activists, Cynthia Banas & Kathleen Rumpf, will speak at ArtRage in another in a series of Truth Telling sessions during our Americans Who Tell The Truth exhibition. Their work has extended over 40 years individually and has brought to light the injustices of many wars (from Vietnam through Afghanistan), the role the USA has played in world domination and the way those practices have manifested themselves in domestic policy. Please join us to listen and learn about the ongoing work these courageous women share. Their words will affirm those who work today to end social injustice and will inspire others to tell some of their own truths.

Cynthia Banas

Cynthia in Israel

Cynthia (R) and friend during the international campaign to free Mordicai Vanunu in Israel

Cynthia Banas became a peace activist when she watched the Vietnam war unfold on media TV. Television provided reality coverage of the war; the iconic photo showing the little girl running down the road , terrified, her body aflame with burning  “agent orange”. She lives in Vernon, N.Y. which is 7 miles from Rome where the former Griffiss air force base was located. In the early 1980’s she connected with college activists from Cornell, Pax Christi; people from Syracuse and people from the Syracuse Peace Council who protested the cruise missiles being deployed at Griffiss. One struggle for peace and justice led to the next, and continues on .

Some of the movements, campaigns and struggles she has participated in include the anti- nuclear weapons and nuclear power campaign and effort to close the Seneca Army Depot – the largest depository of nuclear weapons in the USA. Others include the Cry for Justice Campaign to be with the Haitian people during times of oppression  acting  as human rights monitors; Free Palestine Campaign; Voices in the Wilderness – a campaign to end sanctions against the Iraqi people; a member of the Iraqi Peace Team; the campaign to close the school of assassins (SOA Watch); Peace Brigades delegation to accompany the Mayans return to Guatemala after their 10 year refuge in Mexico; Committee in Solidarity with the People of East Timor; Witness for Peace; a reconciliation journey to Vietnam; Nestle boycott and the international campaign to free Mordicai Vanunu in Israel.

Kathleen Rumpf

kathleen in jailKathleen Rumpf – photo credit:  Dick Blume / The Post Standard

Kathleen Rumpf has been on the Syracuse protest scene for more than two and half decades. Not a stranger to prisons, Rumpf has compiled an extensive rap sheet with her repeated acts of civil disobedience. Though she’s been arrested over one hundred times as a peace and prison reform activist, Rumpf told the small crowd, “that’s not nearly enough,” given the horrible injustices that persist across this country.

For eighteen years, Rumpf has been a prison reform advocate in the Syracuse area. When she was released in 1986 after a two-year stint, she turned to Catholic Worker for help to start a jail ministry. The Catholic Worker was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day during the Great Depression, and its work derives from the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Visiting the imprisoned is just one of the seven corporal works of mercy, and Rumpf’s work has been tireless and inspirational.

On Thanksgiving 1983, she and six other “peace felons” sneaked onto Griffiss Air Force Base and hammered dents into a B-52 bomber. She spent 18 months in jail for that offense. After the Plowshares 7 were convicted, Rumpf persuaded the FBI to return to her the hammer she used.

In 1989, Rumpf braved temperatures in the low teens as she staged a four-day hunger strike outside the James M. Hanley Federal Building to protest Congress’ approving $85 million in military aid to El Salvador.

On Jan. 16, 1992, the anniversary of the start of the war on Iraq, she was arrested at the federal building on a trespass charge after she refused to leave the U.S. attorney’s office.

About 18 years and again in July 2010, protester Kathleen Rumpf set up a makeshift cage outside the Public Safety Building on South State Street. She lived in the small wooden structure for one week, protesting conditions in the jail. Today, Rumpf is protesting for the same cause at the same location. This time, the cage is made of black PVC piping. Rumpf had a permit to live outside, between the Justice Center and the PSB, for seven days. During the day she wrote letters, read magazines such as The New Yorker and talked to anyone who stoped by. At night she slept on a mattress that barely fit inside the cage. “I could stay home and be comfortable but sometimes you have to go out there and stand with the issue and try to do the best you can,” Rumpf said.

In her own words, Kathleen describes her reasons for her latest protest in “Why I Am Here”.

This weekend as we celebrate our nation’s independence I will begin a week long presence in front of the Justice Center to make visible and call attention to our dependence on our jail—a jail fraught with mismanagement which refuses to acknowledge or correct long standing abuses.

As a community we exhibit heartlessness in our ignorance of what goes on inside the walls of the Justice Center  We use our jail as a dumping ground for the underserved:  for the many in crisis with physical and mental health issues or addiction, our community’s vulnerable whom we fail on a daily basis.  Those we abandon end up in an inhumane system ridden with cruelty which impinges on their (and our) constitutional rights.

Since the Justice Center opened, there have been investigations faulting the treatment of prisoners and their lack of adequate health care.  There is an ongoing pattern of abuse and neglect at the jail, some resulting in unnecessary suffering and death.

There are many who work in the Justice Center desperate for change too; these are the many women and men who struggle with the lack of accountability and administrative leadership.  They are nurses, social workers and deputies who do their very best every day in the most difficult of environments.  Their reports and concerns are ignored by a command staff that is calloused to their employees’ safety.

This year there will be an election that is critical if we are to change the culture and mismanagement of our jail.  So far, none of the candidates for Sheriff have publicly addressed the problems in the jail.  We must demand that the jail is part of the conversation among the candidates and we must demand change!

The problems at the jail and their solutions are complex and present us with a financial quagmire.  However, it is our responsibility as a community to be aware of our deficiencies as a community.  That includes our jail.  We desperately need a sheriff who will demonstrate the ability and willingness to challenge the situation in the jail, to demand proficiency and responsibility.  There is no excuse for the travesty of Onondaga County’s Justice Center.