Nearly 1,200 members from over 20 congregations and other organizations gathered recently at the First Christian Church in Oklahoma City to celebrate the founding convention of Voices Organized in Civic Engagement (VOICE). VOICE is an alliance designed to help OKC area people work together on family issues.
“We have built this organization as an antidote to those politics-as-usual forces that seek to keep us constantly polarized and fearful,” said Jim Rowan, president of the organization and a leader with the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
VOICE, a name chosen to communicate the organization’s purpose, is the product of conversations begun by key clergy members and lay leaders across the metro area who were concerned with the large numbers of families in the community living in poverty.
“We believe that if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we ought to at least talk to them and not find out if they are conservative or liberal first,” said Katie King, leader with Capitol Hill Church of the Nazarene. “We are proud to celebrate building an organization that pledges at its heart to reach across the lines of polarization in our community, to bring together people to talk about their concerns and their dreams for themselves and their families.”
Local religious leaders created the Oklahoma Sponsoring Committee as a first step. Its purpose is to provide training for congregation members to learn how to identify and act on issues of concern related to their children, their schools and their neighborhoods.
Through listening sessions with thousands of metro area families, they have identified common issues of concern that would not be in conflict with any of the religious teachings of the member congregations.
Sundra Flansburg of the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City and Pastor George Young of Holy Temple Baptist Church delivered the keynote address of the convention. Ms. Flansburg compared the mayor’s recent state of the city address with some of the alarming statistics related to poverty in our community. “It is almost a tale of two cities,” she said.
Tara Bassett, a teacher with Taft Middle School, recounted teaching her students about the civil rights movement and the struggle for change and equality. With sadness in her voice she relayed their reaction: “If we fought so hard and did all that, why is everything still so jacked up?”
The challenges of the many recent immigration bills introduced at the Capitol were discussed. Participants agreed that most measures seemed like exclusionary bills making life more difficult for Latino and Hispanic Oklahomans, whether documented and here legally or not.
Members also spoke about potential costs and consequences of the bills and felt it was a victory that all of the bills were eventually defeated or dropped.
Opposing the recent effort by OG&E to seek rate hikes, members attended the Corporation Commission hearing to support individuals who gave testimony about the burden that rate hikes would place on families already struggling.
The elderly on fixed incomes would be especially challenged, as many already make painful choices among the costs of food, shelter, medicine, and other expenses, they told the commission.
The VOICE agenda has identified eight common areas of concern including senior care and retirement issues; public transportation; public school and education issues; neighborhood support; access to health care and prison justice.
Pastor Young asked, “Who will speak for me?” Young said that life is good for people who are enjoying the fruits of development so visible in our capitol city. “But for many,” said Young, “economic well-being seems out of reach, no matter how hard they work.”
For more information about VOICE contact Melodie Garneau at [email protected], 495-314-0945 or visit www.facebook.com/VOICEforokc