THE BUZZ 2: Fed Up Faces the Fed

By on August 23, 2016

After a hotel room snafu at Jackson Lake Lodge, members of Fed Up will meet the Fed for the first time during the Federal Reserve Symposium.

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, after 1973, productivity grew strongly, especially after 1995, while the typical worker’s compensation was relatively stagnant. This divergence of pay and productivity has meant that many workers were not benefitting from productivity growth—the economy could afford higher pay but it was not providing it. (Photo: Economic Policy Institute)

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, after 1973 productivity grew strongly, especially after 1995, while the typical worker’s compensation was relatively stagnant. This divergence of pay and productivity has meant that many workers were not benefitting from productivity growth—the economy could afford higher pay but it was not providing it. (Image: Economic Policy Institute)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – In a state of affairs that smacks of irony for protestors and Jackson citizens alike, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City will again hold its 38th annual Federal Reserve Symposium at Jackson Lake Lodge this week. The symposium, just north of the area with the highest economic disparity in the United States—Jackson Hole—will host some of the biggest economic power players in the world. But this year marks a historic first: the Fed will hold a meeting to hear from some of its biggest critics: “Fed Up.”

Who is Fed Up?

In response to the symposium, The Center for Popular Democracy has once again organized the Fed Up campaign. CPD has headed the effort for the past two years to rally for change at the temporary center of the world’s economy. The group’s mission is to confront the Fed about the repercussions their economic policies could and do have on society’s most vulnerable members.

Shawn Sebastian is the field director for Fed Up. He summarized the campaign’s directive as bringing awareness to “how the Fed sets the balance of power between workers and the 1 percent and how that results in inequality.”

Although the Fed Up campaign has never been granted an audience at the symposium, this summer that tradition of dismissal will change thanks to a hotel room overselling snafu that garnered national headlines last week.

Room reconciliation

Due to what has been deemed a “computer glitch,” Jackson Lake Lodge oversold 18 rooms during the dates of the Federal Reserve Symposium. Thirteen of those rooms were reserved for members of the Fed Up campaign.

“I understand that mistakes happen,” Sebastian said, “but there was no reason for us to be singled out. And it’s especially troubling to be singled out when our guests are overwhelmingly people of color, exercising First Amendment rights.”

Sebastian says that in a hotel with 385 rooms in a national park, it was difficult to understand how members of his party were seemingly disproportionately targeted. “We booked and paid for rooms in May, and there were at least 100 rooms booked after us, and we never got a good explanation as to why [our rooms were cancelled],” he said.

As of press time, a representative from Grand Teton Lodging Company did not return a phone call for comment.

The CDM lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior, which compelled the Federal Reserve of Kansas City to reach out to the group, olive branch in hand.

“They asked us just what it was we wanted, what it was we were trying to accomplish, and we said ‘We want to speak to the most powerful decision makers,’ so the KC Fed is making that happen,” Sebastian said.

On Thursday Kansas City Fed president Esther George and other Fed presidents and governors will hear from the Fed Up constituency during a live-streamed meeting. “What we hope for is a very substantive conversation between the most powerful people in the country and the rest of us,” Sebastian said.

It will be the first time the Federal Reserve board of governors has collectively met with the working class in the history of their symposium.

Jacksonites face the Fed

As part of the boots-on-the-ground force that is helping fuel Fed Up’s resolve, Cyndi Castillo has moved from translator for the campaign to community inspiration. As a translator for One 22 and an active member of the Jackson Hole community, she is especially concerned with the way the Federal Reserve’s policies affect Latinos.

“I think [Fed Up] is hoping to create awareness at the symposium, that [the board of governors] represent the entire U.S., and their decisions affect workers in a way that per chance they are not conscious of,” Castillo said. She noted that the Latino community is underrepresented in politics and policy-making, specifically when it comes to the all-white Federal Reserve board of governors.

In an attempt to bring awareness to Fed Up’s agenda, Castillo is spearheading a canvassing event 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Home Ranch Lot in Jackson. From there people will visit low income neighboorhoods to discuss racial and economic inequality. She hopes to spread the word about Fed Up’s corollary convention, too.

Fed Up’s version of events features local speakers and national representatives leading discussions on key public policy and how the Fed affects policy. It happens at the Hatchett Resort,  9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.

More important than the president

The Fed is so integral to the United State’s economy, Sebastian explained, that the fallout of the decisions made by the board of governors (even those decisions made at the Jackson symposium) directly affect jobs, hourly wages and livelihoods across the country.

“The reason we’re focused on the Federal Reserve is because the Fed is the most important economic policy maker in the country; more important than the president, congress, the treasury. The most important economic policy maker,” he said.

Sebastian finds this to be especially troubling, because while most Americans can name the current presidential candidates who run on continually-vetted platforms for economic growth and stability, the Fed’s control over interest rates actually sets the tone for job growth and wage distribution nationwide. But few people in the United States can name even one of the 17 members. “Whether or not you can find a good job, or how much they will pay you is set by the Fed, and no one really knows any of that,” Sebastian said. “There are only 17 [members]. Everyone knows who Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are, but no one knows who Charles Evans is. And that’s what we’re trying to bring awareness to: all of these things that are made possible by a labor market that devalues workers—the Fed creates that labor market.”

For many Jackson residents, that labor market is affecting their quality of life. During Fed Up’s symposium, members of Shelter JH, a community advocacy group focused on the housing crisis, will address the financial struggles that some residents face in the most economically unequal town in the United States.

Jorge Moreno is one of the representatives from Shelter JH who has been working with Fed Up. His hope is to communicate to the Fed the realities of day-to-day life in Jackson.

“It’s a beautiful place, so a lot of people don’t believe we have any issues, that everyone is happy,” he said. “We just have to show a different side of Jackson. I believe it is related with the inequality. Everyone thinks that just living in Jackson, you have more than others, but it’s not necessarily true. Sometimes you have to work two to three jobs just to make payments, just to survive, and immediately they start thinking you have money and you’re privileged.

“We are privileged to be here, but even though sometimes we make more money, we live worse than other people, and I think that’s what we want to communicate.” PJH

Watch the meeting between Fed Up and the Fed live streamed at youtube.com/watch?v=4QnI098UHy0&sns=em

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