While the wild fires still rage in Northern California, property is destroyed and lives are lost, hope is alive. The first responders are working tirelessly, and neighbors are coming together to support one another. Some might be surprised to know that among those playing an active role in responding are local credit unions. For example, the Redwood Credit Union has taken the lead in creating a relief fund for donations and covering all of the fund’s administrative costs, so that 100% of donations go to those most in need.
A credit union might not be your first thought when thinking of community partners in addressing everything from climate-fueled disasters to fossil fuel dependency. Indeed, we often talk about all the evil or injustice perpetrated by banks. But around the country, credit unions are working for their communities; combating payday lending, easing reliance on fossil fuels, and supporting families across the economic spectrum. It turns out credit unions provide similar services to banks, but with a completely different mission and focus.
Learning about Credit Unions
I first became aware of credit unions during the “Fire your Bank” movement of 2009. Before then, I wasn’t really aware of what credit unions did or why they were better than banks. As huge, well-known financial institutions were filling the news, I learned the ways that credit unions offer an alternative. Credit unions are member owned, non-profit institutions, that exist to serve the needs of their members and surrounding community. All profits earned by a credit union are returned directly back to members.
Additionally, there is a specific type of credit union that has the explicit mission of serving low and moderate income individuals and communities. These are called Community Development Credit Unions. CDCUs offer fairly priced loans, even to those with no or bad credit, provide financial education, and offer financial services to those who are otherwise unbanked. Not only do CDCUs have the mission of serving their communities, they also go through a certification process that holds them accountable to their mission.
CDCU employees speak about their work in some of the same way church people speak about their calling to serve the church. They are dedicated, inspiring, and prophetic. They feel called to serve the least among us; to do justice and love kindness. CDCUs leverage the power of money for the good of the community.
Bank with Your Values: Climate Justice
Regardless of our politics or social views, most of us receive financial services from somewhere. That is, few of us keep our life savings under the mattress or in a shoe box! With a big bank, we have very little say over how the bank is run or what kinds of investments are made. The money we deposit rarely has any positive impact on our communities, and it might even have a negative impact. In fact, we know that many big banks finance the destructive practices of the fossil fuel industry. But by becoming a member of a credit union and making use of the services they provide, we are doing justice with every payroll deposit and mortgage payment.
If you are interested in firing your bank or simply learning more, check out the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions. It may be your first step in finding a new community partner for climate justice.
The Rev. Courtney Stange-Tregear serves as the Minister for Church Vitality for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ.