Will this inflection point give credit unions a chance to shine?
At his inauguration, President Joe Biden said, “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility.”
Whether one voted for him or not, President Biden’s words are worth breaking down. The beginning of the quote is one I take to heart. At this point in my career, I have lived through—and studied—my fair share of administrations. But Biden’s hopeful words imply a deeper notion at play.
Red against blue… rural against urban… conservative against liberal…
Humans are naturally homophilic (meaning “love of the same”), and our brains subconsciously seek clues in other people, philosophies, and situations similar to ours. In an age when diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts seek to challenge homophily, influences like social media have brought intense focus on our own tendencies to surround ourselves with likeminded people. By shedding the “us versus them” mentality, we open ourselves to a world of possibilities, innovation, and creative solutions to complex problems. But do we have the collective will to do that?
Since before the Civil War, Americans have witnessed a pendulum phenomenon with U.S. House and Senate majorities, especially during mid-term elections. You’d be forgiven for thinking these swings might be beneficial where political diversity is concerned; after all, every party’s agenda would regain the spotlight with a new crop of lawmakers in charge. This would probably have been true in previous decades, but not in today’s hotbeds of partisanship where reaching a supermajority of 60 votes seems nearly unattainable on all but the least controversial legislation.
Modern partisanship has led to legislative obstruction, a dearth of civility, and the extinction of compromise. “The uncivil war” that pits us against one another is destructive to our democratic experiment, and unless we can find the will to pull ourselves out of the “us against them” quagmire, we will find ourselves in a barren wasteland in which possibilities, innovation, and creative solutions to complex problems don’t exist.
Is there a chance we can change direction now that the executive branch and both chambers of the legislative branch are controlled by one political party? Some would say a one-party government trifecta could be beneficial because it can increase efficiency in passing legislation and avoid gridlock. Others may argue that government trifectas are undesirable because one side can easily pass its agenda unopposed.
The much anticipated “blue wave” didn’t quite materialize in 2020. Some blame intraparty bickering, and lack of a coherent, unified message. While an opposing “red wave” may serve as a formidable countermeasure, there is a lack of coherence in corners of that space, as well.
So, here we are again, as divided—if not more so—than ever.
When the terrible events of Jan. 6 unfolded at our nation’s Capitol, I received an influx of messages regarding our PAC contributions, which are deliberately nonpartisan in nature. Leagues like Cornerstone work with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) to ensure that we’re supporting credit union champions across the country, regardless of party. The interconnectedness of the federal- and state-level associations is part of the secret sauce that makes our system work.
With the 2020 Census behind us, redistricting will take place this year, possibly determining who controls national and state legislative bodies. In fast-growing states like Texas, redistricting will also lead to reapportionment. The process will be complex and contentious, and the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be redistributed amongst the 50 states. Will this lead to a reexamining of political ideology? That remains to be seen.
Perhaps a quick review of the intersection of U.S. and credit union history will give us some clues. The Great Depression of the 1930s was rife with poverty, unemployment, and economic disintegration. More than 15 million American wage-earners were unemployed with no insurance or compensation, driving people to stand for hours in bread lines. Now almost 90 years later, our nation faces some disturbing parallels.
After more than 9,000 banks closed between 1930 and 1933—4,000 in 1933 alone—Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal gave rise to new banking policies and regulations that led to long-term stability in the financial services industry. By the time Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law in 1934, cooperatively structured credit unions had gained popularity by creating a system to promote thrift and sound financial practices. The credit union movement started as innovators in the midst of incomparable American strife.
Biden’s words inspire hope, but more importantly, they inspire action. In a world of possibilities, wouldn’t it be a mark of our success as a movement if credit unions could once again be an innovative solution to some complex problems? Afterall, we’ve been helping consumers rise above the economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic for the last year, and we will continue to lift people up as we always have.
But how can we make lawmakers see credit unions as part of the answer? Rhetoric isn’t enough, of course. We’ll need solid data.
Leagues and credit unions can show our financial power and innovation as a result of the lengths credit unions went—including and beyond the Paycheck Protection Program—to provide creative first-responder financial assistance to millions of struggling Americans—many who were turned away by banks. Credit unions may share their stories by submitting short videos to CUNA’s Advancing Community site to help in CUNA’s communications with elected officials.
Another way credit unions can amplify their voices is by discovering their member of Congress, state senator, and state representative and connecting with their office. Visit their websites to find out which committees they serve on and when they are back in the district. Ensure to have their contact information to expedite contact on priority issues. Some helpful resources include https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials and https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative.
Additionally, you can get more involved by participating in governmental affairs conferences (GACs), either CUNA’s, or your state league’s. Though this year’s GACs will be mostly virtual, they are still powerful events that showcase our grassroots strength. The more credit unions participate, the stronger our presence and the greater our influence.
As a credit union leader, I have faith our economy will bounce back. As a citizen, I am concerned about how we as humans can hope to be better if we can’t embrace those unlike ourselves—if we can’t, as Biden said, open our souls instead of hardening our hearts and show a little tolerance and humility.
“If we show a little tolerance and humility.”
My final thoughts on this topic rest on the last sentence in the quote. Tolerance lets us stand silently in the same room as our adversaries. Humility breaks down a barrier and opens our hearts to engage in dialogue. Whether that dialogue is productive is up to you.