Raise a VOICE 

Lance Schmitz
Credit: Mark Hancock

Founded last winter at a convention that drew more than 1,200 people, Voices Organized in Civic Engagement (VOICE) hopes to get residents focused on what their biggest needs are, and how those can best be achieved at the local and state level.

“We hope to get citizens engaged in conversations that confront our communities, and we will try to hold public officials accountable for their decisions and votes,” said Lance Schmitz, pastor of Capitol Hill Church of the Nazarene and an original member of VOICE’s earlier entity, the Oklahoma Sponsoring Committee.

For VOICE, a key is to encourage civil discussions that don’t erode into shouting matches. It had an opportunity to demonstrate this method at recent Oklahoma Corporation Commission hearings about potential OGE rate increases.

“What we brought to the table was the attempt to democratize the process,” said Sundra Flansburg, president of the VOICE Education Fund.

VOICE had asked commissioners, who ultimately rejected the requested rate increase, to consider the poor and elderly when making their decision.

The organization is nonsectarian, according to committee co-chair Melodie Garneau.

“We have member congregations from different faith traditions, including United Church of Christ, Unitarian, Baptist, Catholic and Nazarene, among others, and we have members who have no particular faith commitment,” she said.

Garneau said immigration and education top the group’s issues. She said VOICE wants to put education back into the hands of parents, guardians and families instead of school boards and the state Department of Education.

“Too often the immediate response to poorly performing schools is ‘charter school,’” Garneau said. “Sometimes a charter school is the appropriate response, but we want to get neighborhoods and families involved in the conversation, get them back into the schools, so the community can make the decision best for the schools.”

VOICE leaders stress that the group is nonpartisan.

“We don’t endorse candidates,” Schmitz said. “We just tell people where [the candidates] stand on certain issues.”

For more information, visit voiceokc.com.

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