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Mecham Grassroots activism a hallmark of CU industry
BOSTON (6/25/09)--Calling it a privilege to meet in the home city of Edward A. Filene, the father of the U.S. credit union movement, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Chairman Kris Mecham noted that the area is rich in heritage and tradition. One such tradition: Credit unions’ history of grassroots activism began there, he told attendees at America’s Credit Union Conference and Expo.
Click to view larger image The credit union tradition of grassroots advocacy isn't new, Credit Union National Association Chairman Kris Mecham, president/CEO of Deseret First CU, Salt Lake City, told America's Credit Union Conference and Expo attendees Wednesday. Credit unions used grassroots advocacy for the first time when they mobilized a national effort to create a federal Credit Union Act in 1934. (Photo provided by CUNA)
The CUNA-sponsored conference began Sunday in Boston and ended Wednesday. “Grassroots activism is the roots and hallmark of our industry,” Mecham, president/CEO of Deseret First CU, Salt Lake City, said. U.S. credit unions’ first grassroots operation came when Filene and Roy F. Bergengren, on the heels of the Great Depression, created a network of coordinated credit unions to advocate a federal credit union act, he said. “They identified people who became advocates for the system. The first time the credit union movement engaged in a national mobilized movement was to get the Credit Union Act enacted.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act on June 26, 1934. He told of past fights with banks and grassroots efforts from the 1970s over share drafts to the 1980s when credit unions saw their independent regulator threatened and went to Washington, “standing 15,000 strong on the Mall.” They produced 6.5 million letters and petitions to Congress. And grassroots efforts hit a crescendo in the 1990s that brought about the Credit Union Membership Access Act (H.R. 1151). “Ours was a grassroots of our membership; banks’ was a grassroots of employees,” Mecham noted. Grassroots also helped when credit unions needed Congress to act on corporate credit union stabilization. This time, 30,000 e-mails helped that effort, he noted. Mecham outlined recent successes—getting stabilization expensing spread out over time, the elimination of cramdown provisions in legislation, achieving a place at the table of Senate leadership, removal of interchange fee issues from legislation, the first defeat of the Internal Revenue Service’s unrelated business income tax, and the increased national visibility of credit unions. “Our movement is poised for powerful, powerful opportunity,” Mecham said. “Don’t forget advocacy. Attend the Government Affairs Conference. Hike the Hill. Contact your legislators and regulators when called to action. And remember the words of Alphonse Desjardins (founder of Canada’s credit union movement), who said, ‘Let us never forget that the credit union above all else is an association of people, not dollars.”
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