Dr. Gary Sims’ story is one of dozens we have heard about student loan debt. Most of the stories come from public education teachers, social workers and other professionals who will never earn a physician’s salary.
While researching the topic of student loan debt, we have heard from people whose Social Security checks, disability checks and paychecks are being garnished. In response to stories like these and quantitative data, financial experts, economists and politicians are labeling student loan debt as a “crisis,” one that can no longer be ignored.
While it may seem overwhelming to think about change at the national level, there are actions that can be taken at the state and local level, and Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) is pursuing them. Using tools of broad-based organizing, ACTION teaches members to cross lines of race, ethnicity, class and religion to challenge social injustices facing families and communities.
ACTION has developed a presentation that is being given in Tulsa congregations and universities. This presentation provides guidance on student loan debt. ACTION is also studying how debt collectors engage with consumers. Forty percent of Oklahomans have at least one debt in collections, which can range from student loan debt to credit card debt and medical debt.
Responding to concerns raised by VOICE, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office announced the establishment of a Citizens Advisory Board. The need for the board rose to the leaders’ attention in 2016 through small group conversations hosted by institutions, in which leaders heard alarming stories about prison conditions and lack of transparency in the filing of complaints. At a 2017 accountability session, the Sheriff publicly committed to establishing the committee, if elected.
The Citizens Advisory Board will be formed by a diverse group of citizens interested in participating in the conversation with the Sheriff’s office and will serve as a sounding board to the Sheriff in all aspects of the agency. According to Sundra Flansburg, a leader with VOICE, the “CAB will be a great way for citizens to learn more about the jail and provide input on potential solutions for issues.”
At the same time, it offers citizens an opportunity to engage in the democratic process beyond the vote.
Oklahoma County Sheriff Forming Citizens Advisory Board, The Oklahoman
In preparation for the Oklahoma City Council Election on February 12th, leaders of Voice OKC held an accountability session with candidates to hear their positions on aspects that tie in with concerns they have identified at their institutions through conversations. In a full sanctuary, the candidates addressed the questions posed by Voice OKC leaders regarding the importance of improving sidewalks and bus stops, the need to raise the $200,000.00 city's budget for social services such as healthcare and housing, the emphasis on MAPS 4 projects that actually benefit the daily life of voters as opposed to large-capital projects and the search for a new Police chief who will avoid unrest and racial profiling.
By engaging with candidates through this accountability session, VOICE OKC leaders secure commitments from the candidates on issues identified by VOICE members and part of the community agenda. Following the accountability session, the leaders return to their institutions to reflect on the candidates’ articulated positions on each of the issues and proceed to the polls to make an informed voting decision. In this way, VOICE OKC leaders fulfill their mission: “to work within the democratic process with civic leaders and public officials on issues of concern to families.”
Oklahoma City council candidates hold forum, Fox 25 News
Leaders publicly called on Governor Mary Fallin to veto the bill, on television and in writing arguing, as did Fr. Tim Luschen, that the bill is "not anything that can make our community a better place."Read more
This year, Elise Robillard declared on behalf of VOICE-OKC, "It's time to stop protecting profits for major corporations like OG&E and start protecting the families of Oklahoma, people who are going to have to choose between buying groceries and paying their electric bill." Finally succumbing to organized campaigns of weekly calls to address the issue, the utility commission ruled, permitting OG&E an $8.9 Million rate increase (only 72 cents per month). Furthermore, the commission will claw back $50 Million in back charges to residential users, inappropriately charged by OG&E prior to the ruling.Read more
She was joined by other leaders of VOICE in support of legislation that would curb the worst effects of the payday lending industry in the state including caps on interest rates and limits to the number of times a loan can be rolled over.Read more
VOICE to Hold OKCPS Board Chair Candidates Accountability Session, The City Sentinel
In response to stories like hers, religious leaders of VOICE-OKC, including Rev. Lori Walke of Mayflower Congregational Church and Rev. Tim Luschen of Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, are now calling for payday lending reforms. According to The Oklahoman, Oklahomans pay $52 million in fees charged by payday lenders, paying an average annual interest rate of 391 percent.Read more
VOICE is siding with the FCC in the implementation of a rule passed last year reducing phone call charges to inmates by 40%. Fighting the new rule is the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma County Sheriff and the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Association.Read more
Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, a minister at the First Unitarian Church of OK City, argued, "It falls to you, the corporation commissioners, to stand for the consumers in this case, many of whom barely make it now from paycheck to paycheck."Read more