Mass Demonstrations Greet Lawmakers on Opening Day of Washington Special Session

In a scene reminiscent of the 1960s—part carnival, part sit-in, part rally—nearly 4,000 demonstrators, many of them credit union members, occupied the state capitol building in Olympia, Wash., on Monday, Nov. 28, as state lawmakers tussled with the wrenching task of closing a $1.4 billion budget shortfall.

Legislative staff and casual visitors looked on as police kept a watchful eye on the excited crowd, which often broke into spontaneous chanting.

One credit union member who was on-hand Monday said she was there to ask the legislature to not risk the future because of current budget issues.

“Our budget shortfall should not be balanced by taking away from Washington’s future,” said Karen Horstad, a teacher from Spokane, Wash. “I advocate for a state income tax.”

Horstad said she joined her credit union two years ago when Washington Mutual failed.

“Washington Mutual did me a favor (by failing),” she added.

During the day, a few legislators addressed the undulating crowd that assembled on the north steps of the capitol building. Though they competed with a nearby drum circle for attention, their messages were heard by those who would listen.

The 30-day special session has no major credit union issue to address, as the revocation of the tax-exempt status has been taken off the table.

There is rumor of a grassroots public funds measure, one that is already on the City of Seattle’s agenda, that may help advance credit unions’ ability to accept more public funds deposits. However, nothing yet has been put on the legislative table.

“We’re working with the association that serves the state’s cities and counties to advance our bill, which would raise the maximum deposit level to the insurance maximum—currently $250,000,” said Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) Vice President of Legislative Affairs Mark Minickiello. “We’ll keep credit unions updated if anything comes of it.”

Whatever the outcome of this special session, one thing is for sure: the activism and demonstrations that have marked the past few months—and that contributed to the success of initiatives like Bank Transfer Day—show no signs of slowing down. As a result, the credit union movement remains very much in the public spotlight.

So far, the public has responded, as the attention has translated into record numbers of new members in recent months. As credit unions can now look to use that momentum to generate support on the legislative front, Monday’s demonstrations in Olympia made it clear that public support continues to be as strong as ever.

The question now is whether or not legislators will respond as the public did, taking action in support of credit unions, because their response could well decide their electoral fate next November.


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Posted in Advocacy News, Events, NWCUA.