Occupy Wall Street: Promoting Credit Unions

Democracy Revolution

At Occupy Wall Street's headquarters in Liberty Plaza , New York City, teach-ins happen daily over the People's Mic (an empowering, participatory spectacle, shown here). Lecture topics vary widely, including the prison-industrial complex, land grabs in Brazil, gender equality, philosophy, environmental issues, and lots and lots of economics. Joseph Stiglitz, Jeff Madrick, Brian Holmes, and Richard D. Wolff are just four of the many one can find down in the park, discussing complex economic issues with an audience ready to learn. Slavoj Zizek, Eve Ensler, Cornel West, and Judith Butler have also made appearances. The list of renowned thinkers willing to teach (and to listen) down at OWS is long and impressive.

Right now, Occupy Wall Street is the best place to find an education. As Wolff proclaimed at the beginning of one of his teach-ins: "This is the best classroom I could imagine, and the reason is simple: because I am teaching people ready to act on what they learn and who are not afraid to take new directions in a country that desperately needs it."

Below are the lecture notes from Elizabeth Friedrich (bio below), who, on October 25, taught the assembled crowd about credit unions, which are alternative institutions to big banks. There is a growing movement coming out of and working parallel with the OWS movement to move money out of giant financial institutions and into small, local credit unions. Bank Transfer Day, for example, calls for this monetary shift to occur before November 5th.

To learn more about credit unions, visit the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the Credit Union National Association, NYCfNAC, and findacreditunion.com.


Hi. My name is Elizabeth Friedrich and I work for the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions; however, these views are my own.

In 2008, we were in Shock. We saw the stock market crash, the housing market collapse, and the bailout.  We were paralyzed.

We did not know what would happen next and hoped for the best.

Today, we have more perspective. We understand that the choices of a few have had negative impacts on the many. We understand now more than ever, that there is no invisible hand guiding the capital markets … We also know the markets need to be well regulated.

Today we have a choice. There is a parallel financial industry functioning alongside banks -Credit Unions. Credit Unions offer many of the same services as banks but with affordable and flexible terms. Accounts at both banks and credit unions are insured up to $250,000.


There are three very important differences:

+ Credit Unions serve their local communities. This means that the money deposited by members, stays locally, to help build a stronger communities.

+ Member Satisfaction is primary. A Credit Union's top priority is their members. With Commercial Banks, customer satisfaction is secondary.

+ Credit Unions are democratically governed; every member has an equal vote. Members elect their board of directors, and the boards are not compensated.

Credit unions have been around for more than 100 years; they are unique depository institutions created not for profit, but to serve their members’ financial needs. They are accountable to all of their members, not to a limited number of owners.

There are over 80 credit unions serving different types of membership across New York City. There are 440 Credit Unions in New York State and 7,500 nationwide, with over 90 million members. Many provide their members with access to extensive surcharge-free ATM networks. Membership is based on your location, association, and/or employer, but there is some flexibility.   

There ARE alternatives based on the principles of people before profit and economic democracy. It’s your choice. Understanding your options is the first step towards financial stability and change. Let this movement be a model for the country and the world to see what cooperation and motivation can do. 

November 5th is Bank Transfer Day. Find out more about Credit Unions. The Alternative Economics Working Group will be setting up a table this week in Zuccotti Park. We will have a list of credit unions and step-by-step guide to join one. You can also go on findacreditunion.com.


Elizabeth Friedrich recently finished a masters of Urban Policy with a specialization in Community Development Finance a the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy. She also works as a consultant with a New Orleans based social venture fund, ValueSpark Capital. Over the last two years Elizabeth was a Research Assistant and Graduate Assistant for the Community Development Finance Lab at Milano. During her masters degree program she focused on redevelopment/recovery of New Orleans through the Finance Lab. She worked on projects that focused on Community Land Trusts, Commercial Development and building capacity within the Community Development Financial Institutions of New Orleans. In addition, she was a community organizer in the South Bronx sourcing local produce to the community through a start up venture called Corbin Hill Farm Road. Elizabeth visits New Orleans every six-nine months to rebuild with organizations like Catholic Charities and Lowernine since Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. 

Elizabeth is from New York and has lived in Atlanta, New Orleans and traveled around Europe during her undergraduate career. She graduated from Fordham University with a double major in African-American Studies and Urban Studies in May 2009. In 2011, she completed her masters degree in Urban Policy at The New School for Management and Urban Policy.

Follow Shaun on Twitter @shaunrandol

Joseph Stiglitz, Occupy Wall Street, Eve Ensler, Jeff Madrick, Brian Holmes, credit unions, Elizabeth Friedrich, Richard D. Wolff, Slovoj Zizek, Cornel West, Judith Butler