Politics and Star-Crossed Lovers
My vote is for Bernie Sanders, and here’s why:
First there’s the obvious rhetoric of his speeches. When I hear these words, I can’t help but feel there’s a natural connection to the philosophy of “people helping people” and the cooperative values I’ve believed in long before people were feelin’ the Bern:
“Our job is not to divide; our job is to bring people together. If we do not allow them to divide us up by race, by sexual orientation, by gender; by not allowing them to divide us up by whether or not we were born in America or whether we're immigrants; when we stand together as white, and black, and Hispanic, and gay, and straight, and woman, and man; when we stand together and demand that this country works for all of us rather than the few, we will transform America, and that is what this campaign is all about; it’s bringing people together.”
This makes my heart swell and I so deeply want the vision that these words promise. I want credit unions and cooperatives and leaders like Bernie Sanders to courageously lead us to this better America where we can all get along. I believe this America is possible, and I believe this is our only path away from the edge of destruction and toward a better place for all. Cue inspiring music, I’m headed into the sunset!
The longer answer takes into account (sad, sad) reality.
It seems there are two distinct ways to look at what the political landscape today could mean for the credit union industry.
The first is what I just described. The “pull” of vast consumer sentiment that wants a more just and equitable economy. A discussion on inclusion, equity, justice and the dangers of wealth inequality — many of the values congruent with what cooperative business are founded on — is being had on the big blue Bernie Sanders stage. This lends much needed exposure to the oft overlooked “alternative” business model and has the potential to drive consumers to credit unions and cooperatives by the hundreds of thousands. Great news for credit unions!
Then there’s the “push” side of the movement. This is the sum of what the credit unions can and are allowed to do; how state and federal regulations impact their ability to do business and what they can resultantly push out to offer as goods and services to consumers.
When it comes to the impact of the federal government, Congress and regulators, Heather Anderson has already given due diligence to the field of landmines credit unions have to cross ahead regardless of the outcomes of this year’s election.
While the credit union movement’s ability to exist and do business as usual may become increasingly more strained by regulation issues with a Bernie Sanders presidency, the great irony of this all is that simultaneously, there would be heightened awareness of the social good of organizations like credit unions and cooperatives, driving consumer desire to use them.
So we may experience this “star-crossed lover” phenomenon whereby credit unions who have been trying for decades to get people to see their softer benefits — to be able to capture more hearts and minds through their social "good deeds" — are finally seeing the results of that awakening by the people. And people, finally hearing the message, will come running to credit unions with open arms and hearts of hope that maybe, just maybe, they finally found “the answers to all society’s problems” only to join the party too late, finding instead a faltering, anemic, too-far-gone dinosaur of an industry.
I believe a President Sanders would elevate the cooperative idea and the consumer demand for more businesses to function similarly for the social good. While at the same time, the resulting political system’s scrambling to make ever more complex regulations either to protect us from ourselves or to benefit the few from the actions of the masses will tighten the chokehold on credit unions’ abilities to actually exist as viable businesses, to do business well, and to serve a new contingent of people suddenly awake to the importance of businesses who do social good.
Given that there will likely be regulatory strangulation regardless of who wins, I believe Bernie Sanders to be the best option for the credit union movement to gain momentum for its ideas on a stage much bigger than it ever could have afforded before.
Credit unions have been overcoming regulatory burden this long, and no doubt they will need to keep adapting to survive. The timing is just terrible. Two ships crossing in the night … people finally getting the message of why local, small, inclusive and equitable practices might be better for each and all of us. Meanwhile, the evolving regulatory environment could come to the point where there is immensely less ability for credit unions to serve the very people whose financial lives they’ve promised to improve.
Holly Fearing is social media advisor at Filene Research Institute. She can be reached at 608-213-5194 or firstname.lastname@example.org.