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Rev. Jonalu Johnstone is a Development Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan and was the Program Minister at First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City for more than 12 years where she was a founding leader of VOICE.
I got involved with VOICE as it was forming because I knew a little about community organizing and primarily knew that other ministers had found it to be a great place for their lay leaders to receive training. I had long been active in social and political justice-making and thought, “Hey, here’s another tool!”
It turned out to be so much more.
VOICE taught me so much about leadership and supported me to exert that leadership. I continue to practice what I learned, even though I am no longer part of a formal community organizing group. I learned that the way to build an organization is through relationship. When I know I can count on someone else to show up, then I know I have to show up for them. There is so much power in doing this together.
I remember going to one meeting that concerned education. When a small, multi-racial contingent showed up to talk with leaders, I could see the wheels turning. “Who are these people, working across these barriers?” They weren’t used to encountering groups like VOICE.
The first major campaign I was involved with was working to prevent a rate hike by OG&E. Apparently, rate hikes usually had gone completely unopposed, except perhaps for a few individuals – not always the sanest -- who’d show up once at a Corporation Commission hearing and rant a bit. The commissioners had never encountered what we brought – citizen representatives with our yellow nametags sat day after day through the hearings. Each time someone from our group testified, we stood in support. The commissioners started speaking to us, occasionally explaining something technical, and finally, on a day near Christmas when the crowds were thin, asking us to tell them more about our group. The bottom line – our persistence, our knowledge, our diversity – led to the rate hike request being turned down. WE HAD WON!
We didn’t always win. We fought hard for Medicaid expansion. But even with losses, we did something. We taught people facts about the issue. We taught one another how to work with legislators and how to mobilize our groups. We built an organization. An organization with power, someone to speak for citizens who often don’t have a voice.
I love the name of this organization – VOICE – because in so many ways it gives voice to those who haven’t had it before. I am forever grateful for all that participation in VOICE taught me.
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.