At Izzy Awards 2015

Maura Stephens

Associate Director, Park Center for Independent Media, Department of Journalism
Staff, Roy H. Park School of Communications
Staff, Park Center for Independent Media

Bio: Before PCIM

From 1997 to 2010 Maura was publishing editor of ICView, Ithaca College's quarterly magazine, bringing to a 63,000+ readership hundreds of stories about the College and its many constituents.

During her IC tenure Maura has served on committees including Diversity Awareness, Natural Lands, Traditions, and Faculty and Staff for Sustainability. 

Maura has been an IC student herself, taking several classes in two schools; she hopes to take more. So far she has been mentor to some 45 writing and research interns and "boss" to a dozen or so wonderful student workers. She remains in close touch with many of them (more regularly since the advent of social media!) and is proud of the work they do and the people they are. She has also been adviser or mentor to several student organizations and scores of individual students from different majors.

Before coming to IC, Maura spent 19 years learning the craft of journalism while working her way up through the editorial ranks at Newsweek and Newsweek International magazines--from researcher to reporter, writer, production editor, and ultimately general editor in the international editions. She later cofounded an early Internet magazine/information resource that was among the first (if not the first) online entities to have video streaming capabilities and had a successful revenue scheme. During these experiences she developed a passion for international affairs, investigative reporting, and the ascendance of truth and facts in reporting instead of skewing stories with a false sense of "balance." "Advocacy journalism is admirable when the ones being advocated for are people, animals, and nature -- as opposed to governments and corporations, which are not people and never will be people, no matter what the Supreme Court may rule," she has written.

While working at Newsweek in New York City three or four days a week, Maura spent the rest of her days on her sheep, poultry, and organic vegetable farm, raising almost all of her family’s food and trading with neighbors for what her own farm did not produce. She also provided several restaurants with lamb, mutton, poultry, eggs, and fresh vegetables. (That was then. Maura has been a vegetarian since 2003.)

When she had to move to New York City for personal reasons, Maura worked for the New York Botanical Garden, where she joined the women-led team that launched Bronx Green-Up. This project reclaimed waste-strewn urban lots, and with the active participation of community members trained by the BGU women, turned them into beautiful green oases, with fruits, vegetables, flowers, and relaxation spaces -- whatever kind of garden the particular community preferred. Bronx Green-Up became a nationally known model for urban greening and community gardening, and this short stint in Maura’s career was one of her most beloved activities.

With her husband, photographer-playwright-director-actor-teacher George Sapio, Maura first visited Iraq shortly before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country. After having heard for months in the mainstream media about Saddam Hussein's intentions to assault the United States and its allies with his "weapons of mass destruction," the journalist in her needed to see for herself. She found that the mainstream media was full of lies and did little if anything to question the Bush administraion's proclamations. She and George subsequently published a photo-essay book about the Iraqi people, Collateral Damage, and Maura began speaking publicly about what they had witnessed and wrote and spoke out strongly in opposition to the invasion and subsequent occupation. She knew then that such a "preventive" invasion would be based on false pretenses and would harm many more innocent Iraqis -- who had already suffered untold misery, pain, and death under the sanctions imposed by the United Nations at the bidding of the United States -- as well as young people serving in the U.S. military. More than a decade later, Iraqis' lives are still miserable. The escalating violence they and civilians in neighboring Syria and other countries endure daily, and that is spreading worldwide, could have been prevented if the USA taken a much different approach.

Since then, Maura has continued to speak and act on behalf of Iraqi people in crisis and to share what she has learned with the people of the United States, who were duped by a huge and tragic fraud perpetrated by their government and the equally culpable corporate media. Besides writing stories for independent media about the struggle to get Iraqis out of danger (such as this one, part 1 and part 2), she has written several policy papers that were distributed to members of the U.S. Congress and the executive branch, as well as to the United Nations. She cofounded, with Rosemary Nuri, Iraqi Refugees Assistance Connection, which aided Iraqi interpreters who were employed by the U.S. military, government, and humanitarians and were subsequently targeted because of this work.

After publishing a story about IC employee and Burmese freedom fighter Han Lin, Maura spent nearly four years volunteering as chief political strategist, U.S. spokesperson, and media coordinator for the International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma. During that time she met with the leaders or ambassadors of many countries, or their representatives, to pressure for international action against the brutal military regime that still holds the Burmese people and their democracy leader hostage. Sadly, Han Lin died of cancer in September 2008, but his noble spirit lives on and his fight continues. Aung San Suu Kyi is now freed, serving in the country's Parliament, and Burma has improved in some ways, but multinational corporations are doing business inside Burma (aka Myanmar)--not the best outcome for the country's 50-60 million people.

From 2004 to 2007 Maura served as vice president of the board and speakers bureau member of Theocracy Watch, a nonprofit organization founded by the visionary Joan Bokaer that tracked and exposed the rise of the radical religious right in the U.S. government. She still follows this trend, which has only gotten more extreme, blatant, and dangerous.

Since she read Bill McKibben's 1989 book, The End of Nature, Maura has learning, thinking, writing, and speaking out about catastrophic climate change. She has been actively involved in the fight against unconventional oil and gas drilling, or fracking, locally and around the world. "Fracking," as she defines it, is much more than just industrial practice of taking millions of gallons of freshwater from aquifers and waterways, mixing it with a toxic stew of chemicals, and blasting it at high pressure deep underground to release tiny bubbles of methane. It encompasses all the processes involved in fossil-fuel exploration, extraction, exploitation, transportation, storage, distribution, and related industries and infrastructures, and it's got to stop for the sake of our health and our future. With many other concerned individuals who have taken it upon themselves to learn of the environmental, health, and economic hazards of this destructive practice, she is hoping to stop Big Gas before it can permanently destroy the region they love, as it has done to large portions of neighboring Pennsylvania and many other states. Maura is a cofounder of Coalition to Protect New York, FrackBustersNY, and several other grassroots organizations devoted to stopping fossil-fuel exploitation and creating democratic governance structures run by and for informed people. 

Maura has guest lectured in several disciplines at IC and other institutions and given scores of presentations, lectures, and media interviews. She has written for such independent media outlets as AlterNet, Counterpunch, OpEd News, openDemocracy,, Truthout, and Yes! magazine and has been a guest on numerous radio and television shows including Democracy Now! She was one of 32 women from around the world invited to contribute to a “Women Making a Difference” dialog marking the fifth anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security and the EU resolution that followed it, and to a dialog on "Women and the G8." In both cases the contributors' recommendations were compiled and shared with UN and G8 leaders.

Maura’s Ithaca-area community involvement has included Finger Lakes Progressives, Sustainable Tompkins, the Sustainability Center, Democracy New York, Ithaca Rape Crisis/Crime Victim and Sexual Assault Services of Tompkins County, the Community Arts Partnership, and WRFI Community Radio for Ithaca and Watkins Glen, as well as Ithaca Fringe Festival, Bad Dog! Productions, Icarus Theatre Ensemble, Theatre Incognita, Wolf's Mouth Theatre Company, Ithaca Theater Hub, and other theater organizations. She has also taught creative writing at Lifelong, TCA, and other venues and is a theater actor, director, producer, and playwright.





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