For more than 15 years, John and Cathy Stefano have been organizing parishioners from St. Louis in Clarksville to attend Catholics in Annapolis and other important events each legislative session, in some years bringing multiple busloads to Annapolis to meet with their legislators.
Their grassroots efforts have involved dozens of Marylanders in the legislative process over the past decade. But its knowing that the work they are doing is for a greater good that keeps the octogenarian couple from Columbia, Md. going.
In her wallet, Cathy carries two quotations to remind her why, at 80 years young, she is still doing grassroots political work.
“’The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’” she said, reading the words of Edmund Burke.
“We say it this way:” she continued. “Evil exists because good men and women are silent.”
Each general assembly session, legislators in Maryland gather for 90 days to actively address pressing concerns in our state and they encourage their constituents to get involved.
Her other quotation is from Mother Teresa: “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.”
Cathy said she saw first-hand the apathy among voters and how few people speak up on important legislation when she worked as an aide in the office of a former delegate.
“She came home one day and said: ‘John, I don’t know why I’m going down there. I’m out of my mind,’” John said.
God, however, said something different. Cathy said she felt God tell her one day in Mass, as she contemplated leaving her job, to stay and to learn. So she did. For 5 more years, she learned all she could and now uses her knowledge to engage others in grassroots advocacy.
Cathy and John Stefano
Today, John and Cathy not only bring Catholics to Annapolis for the Maryland Catholic Conference’s annual Catholics in Annapolis event, but they also attend hearings, and canvass and work to educate their community on important issues as Parish Legislative Ambassadors for the Conference.
Cathy attributes their ability to rally others to action to the personal touch. It would not be out of the ordinary to find Cathy and John on the phone on many a winter evening talking to members of their parish community about key issues and encouraging them to get involved.
“We do a lot of phone calls,” Cathy said.
In the 15 years the couple has been bringing groups to Annapolis to advocate, John said they find more legislators are open to meeting with and listening to their constituents, even if they disagree on the issues.
“In the beginning, people would not even open the door,” John said of legislators. “We would make an appointment, and no one would show up.”
Cathy said her experience taught her that in Annapolis, there is power in numbers and that the larger the group, the more likely it is to be taken seriously on an issue. So they work hard each year to bring the biggest groups possible to the table.
“We’re there because once something becomes a law, a lot of your power is gone,” she said.
Still, apathy among voters is a barrier the Stefanos often encounter.
“Many people do not want to get involved,” Cathy said.
Others, she said, feel beaten down because they are not in the majority, or don’t side with the majority in Annapolis on issues.
Being in the minority on an issue has never deterred the Stefanos.
“The only thing worse than losing is doing nothing,” Cathy said, circling back to the quote by Edmund Burke. “It’s critical for people to know that evil exists because people are silent.”
Her message to those hesitant to get involved? For that, she flips back to the quote from Mother Teresa.
Activism is not about winning. Rather it’s about being faithful to God’s call to engage in the political process, to speak up for the vulnerable in our state, and to advocate for justice, life and human rights.