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 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 has been mentor to nearly 50 writing and research interns and "boss" to a dozen or so student workers. She remains in close touch with many of them 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.
Theater, Journalism, Farming, & Community Gardening
Maura began her career as an actor in New York City, working in a variety of venues (mostly off-off and off-off-off Broadway). She had promised herself that if she wasn't making a living solely from acting after five years, she'd give up pursuing that career and continue work in theater as an avocation. The five-year deadline passed while she was working as a researcher at Newsweek magazine. She hadn't planned to make it a career, but interacting with talented writers and editors who were willing to mentor her, she "fell into" journalism as a way of life; following and covering news and information became a passion. She 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.
During these experiences she developed an abiding interest in international affairs and a commitment to investigative reporting and the ascendance of truth and facts in reporting instead of skewing stories with a false sense of "balance." She has written: "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 have ruled."
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 became a vegetarian in 2003.)
When she left the farm for personal reasons, she studied in the Landscape Design and Horticulture graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, doing fieldwork at the beautiful Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill. Later she worked at the New York Botanical Garden, where she joined the women-led team that launched Bronx Green-Up (BGU). 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. BGU 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.
Seeing yet being unable to stem the commercialization overtaking Newsweek and other "mainstream" news organizations, Maura left to cofound an early Internet e-zine/information resource that was among the first (if not the first) online entities to have video streaming capabilities, a vast database of resources for readers, and a successful revenue scheme. This exciting experience felt like "the equivalent of earning an MBA," she has said.
In 1997 Maura made the move to Ithaca College and began writing for independent media outlets.
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, corporate-run 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 administration'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. She continued to write and speak out strongly in opposition to the invasion and subsequent occupation. She knew that such a preventive (often mistakenly called "preemptive") invasion was 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. All these years later, Iraqis' lives are still very difficult. 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, especially translators who had worked for the USA, out of danger (such as this one, part 1 and part 2), she wrote several policy papers that were distributed to members of the U.S. Congress, the executive branch, and the United Nations. She cofounded, with Rosemary Nuri, Iraqi Refugees Assistance Connection, which aided Iraqi interpreters who were targeted because of this work, and their families to find asylum.
Burma & Theocracy Watch
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 many countries' leaders or ambassadors, 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, now freed, serves in the country's Parliament, and Burma has improved in some ways. But multinational corporations are doing business inside Burma (aka Myanmar) and treating it as a colony--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 been learning, thinking, writing, and speaking out about climate change -- its causes and potential mitigating actions that individuals, communities, and countries can take. She has been heavily 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, as well as the corporate-state neoliberal cabal that enables it. This fracturing of things that make life livable has got to stop for the sake of our health and our future. With many other concerned individuals, Maura has worked to stop fossil fuel corporations and foster energy conservation, biodiversity awareness, and renewable energy and efficient public transportation systems. Maura is a cofounder of Coalition to Protect New York, FrackBustersNY, and several other grassroots organizations devoted to stopping fossil-fuel exploitation and creating governance structures run by and for informed people.
Teaching, Media, and Community Service
Maura has 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, Salon.com, 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, Homecoming Players, 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.
Read more at maurastephens.com.