Rev. Jim Gragg is the former President of the VOICE Education Fund and long time leader in the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church.
As VOICE has listened and organized during the last six years, we know that the need in our community is great and that there is more to be done. VOICE is a coalition of congregations, nonprofits, unions and associations that come together out of a deep sense of concern for the pressures facing families in our community.
At the heart of our work, we practice the “radical” notion that if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we ought to at least talk with them. We have built this organization as an antidote to those politics-as-usual forces that seek to keep us constantly polarized and fearful. We have built this organization to bring together people who don’t usually talk with one another. We have built this organization to provide individuals and families with a way to seek common ground and to stand together on things that matter.
Oklahoma is in crisis and VOICE has been on the front line of many major issues. VOICE pushed for Medicaid Expansion to cover our huge population of people without insurance and save rural hospitals, while State leaders played to ideological arguments of not accepting federal revenue. VOICE led a large and successful push against high-stakes testing in our public schools and we have seen the slow and steady reversal of that policy and near universal condemnation of our testing culture from students, parents and educators.
Oklahoma leads the nation in incarceration and VOICE leaders have again led the fight against fines and fees in our state and the many aspects of a debtor's prison we have created throughout the criminal justice system. Each of these stories and more will be explored in the coming weeks from the perspective of our leaders who have done the hard work.
From Payday Lending to Panhandling to OG&E rate cases, VOICE leaders strive to address the critical issues that face families in our state. Despite progress in some areas, we continue to hear our community cry out. We still see the suffering in our midst and we demand better.
From our earliest conversations, we acknowledged the passionate work our religious traditions have done on behalf of families, particularly families that are middle class or lower-income. And yet, we also acknowledged that individually, our faith communities do not have the power they need to truly impact the policies and actions of public officials that adversely affect the lives of families. We sometimes focus so much on charity that we leave little time to think about justice.
The OKC metropolitan area faces many challenges in the 21st century; we believe that within our institutions, we have a lot of knowledge, talent, and lived experience that can help shape a better future for families, if our institutions organize themselves to work together.
We are fighting for a better future. VOICE believes in the democratic process and that it works best when everybody has a seat at the table. VOICE is a diverse coalition. Our leaders are teachers and Pastors, firefighters and social workers, engineers and lawyers, corrections experts and nonprofit employees. We cannot continue this fight alone. We need your support as we carry this fight for the future, our future, forward together.
This crowdsourcing campaign will position us to fight for a better future for all Oklahomans. Join us today by clicking here and let's organize.