The Kansas City Federal Reserve’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, attracts central bankers, economists and the global elite. The past two years, some new faces came to Jackson Hole: low-wage workers who object to the Fed raising interest rates when too many at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder still struggle.
This year, somebody appears to be ensuring that ordinary people won’t disrupt the party.
The Fed Up campaign, a coalition that brought the workers to Jackson Hole in 2014 and 2015, has filed a formal complaint with the departments of Justice and the Interior, along with the National Park Service, because their hotel reservations for this year’s conference were mysteriously canceled.
Despite paying in advance for spots at the 385-room Jackson Lake Lodge, the Grand Teton Lodge Company told the campaign July 26 that their reservations would not be honored, citing a “computer glitch.” Grand Teton operates the lodge, a publicly owned facility, under a contract with the National Park Service.
Thirty-nine members of the coalition planned to attend this year, but the lodge said computer glitch resulted in overbooking its rooms by 18. Instead of spacing that out among all Jackson Lake lodge guests, the company cancelled all 13 of the Fed Up campaign’s rooms. So nearly three-quarters of the cancelled reservations belonged to the Fed Up group, even though they were told when they booked that 100 rooms were still available at the lodge.
“There is no legitimate explanation for the company’s decision,” wrote Fed Up campaign chair Ady Barkan in the complaint, which alleges possible violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the First Amendment right to peaceable assembly. “This is egregious and disparate treatment.”
The coalition’s reservations were made in the names of staffers for three of its member organizations – the Center for Popular Democracy, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research – using work email addresses.
In an email statement, Alex Klein, vice president and general manager of Grand Teton Lodge Company, said: “This summer we encountered an error with our booking system that resulted in our Jackson Lake Lodge property being oversold by 18 rooms for three peak nights in August. We worked proactively and diligently with guests to relocate them to our nearby Flagg Ranch property, and offered to keep them on a wait list for available rooms should there be cancellations at the Jackson Lake Lodge. We regret inconveniencing any of our guests.”
The Jackson Hole symposium takes place from August 25-27. The event typically features a highly anticipated speech by the Federal Reserve chair – Janet Yellen is expected this year.
In 2014 and 2015, Fed Up brought unemployed workers and local activists to Jackson Hole to highlight how the economy has left behind communities of color and to urge the Fed to hear their voices. Last year, they held an alternative conference in Jackson Hole lodge conference rooms, featuring economists like Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
This year, Fed Up planned to hold a teach-in outside of the lodge, and secured permits for a protest. They still expect 120 members, their largest contingent ever, to attend the proceedings, but they will have to stay in alternative accommodations that are a 20- to 30-minute drive away, separate from symposium guests and the press.
The majority of Fed Up members planning to attend the conference are African-American and Latino, which is why the campaign wants the Justice Department to investigate the matter as a violation of laws ensuring nondiscriminatory treatment in public accommodations. They also want to know if the Kansas City Federal Reserve was at all involved with the decision.
Kansas City Federal Reserve President Esther George has consistently drawn criticism from the Fed Up coalition for wanting to raise interest rates and slow down the economy.
The lodge’s general manager told Fed Up that their reservations were pulled because they were booked in a group of 13, making it easier to cancel them. This, the campaign believes, also violates First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly.
“I recognize that our presence is not desired by either the company or the organizers of the symposium,” Barkan wrote. “But the physical and virtual segregation of Federal Reserve decision-makers far away from the voices and opinions of working class people of color is precisely what the Fed Up coalition is trying to dismantle.”
The incident comes at a sensitive time for the Federal Reserve, which has already been criticized by 127 members of Congress for a lack of diversity among its leadership, which is disproportionately white, male, and either current or former executives of large corporations and financial institutions. Activists believe this homogeneity in race, gender, and background drives central bank decisions that cater to the wealthy and neglect communities of color.
Barkan’s letter to Justice and the Interior concludes: “Once again, the voices and faces of working class people of color have been marginalized … and an opaque, inaccessible, and incredibly powerful quasi-governmental institution has received a bit more insulation from the opinions of the people over whose lives it has so much power.”
The Intercept has reached out for comment to the Justice Department, the Interior Department, and the National Park Service, but did not immediately hear back.