Local Syndrome: The Jackson Hole Hijack, Part 2

By on April 12, 2018

Classism thrives on both sides of the socioeconomic divide

(Ryan Stolp)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Where do we draw the line between the socioeconomic classes in Jackson Hole? Some would point at the Snake River and the delineation of the West Bank and say, “right there,” without hesitation. But looking at the color-by-numbers zoning maps and fluctuating property values, it’s hard to outline those divides.

In addition to the interview in Part 1 of the Jackson Hole Hijack with “Charlie,” I also interviewed “Cleo,” a middle-aged mother of three who admitted to me there’s a slim chance she will ever face a housing issue. We sat down in her beautiful million-dollar home overlooking Flat Creek and drank lemon tea at her glass dining table while her Labrador snored softly nearby.

“I always loved it when we first moved here,” Cleo said. “You would go to someone’s house for dinner and meet people, and it wasn’t about what you earned or what company you ran or whatever. What was more revered was what hike you did, or whatever experience you had that week. But Jackson’s on the map now, and it’s a status symbol to live in Jackson Hole. And I miss the old days.”

Our feelings towards the more affluent members of the community are often filled with bitterness. The rich are viewed as the decision makers in town, because they control companies with special interests, or serve on nonprofit boards, that have money and power. It’s the upper class that possesses their second homes, vacation spots, and expendable wealth, and it’s no secret that Wyoming is a tax shelter, and Jackson, a mecca for tax write-offs.

Because of that, there is an inherent stance that the more affluent residents who have first or second or third homes in Jackson should not be considered as “local” as the rest of us. That is the type of poisonous, exclusionary attitude that will only hurt our community, because those critics like to forget that affluent residents are contributing locals too.

“A lot of people come out here to ski or something like that. But our situation was unique because my husband came here for a job,” Cleo told me. “We raised three kids here. I’ve been involved in the nonprofit world, in the public and private school systems. We’ve been entrenched in the community pretty significantly.”

I was hesitant to include Cleo in my now defunct podcast, Snow Report, not because I didn’t enjoy our conversation or value her answers. Quite the contrary. I wish I could include more of her voice in this column. But I was worried that someone else would make a snap judgment and discount her viewpoint as one of just another rich person. And I didn’t want that.

The “Not in My Backyard” ideology and the entitled voices from those who “worked hard, sacrificed, and didn’t need a housing handout” only put up blinders and deepen the divide between Jackson’s socioeconomic groups. However, the other side of the aisle, with its Bernie Sanders-flavored push on moratoriums and increased property taxes for second-home owners, appears similarly rigid. It causes one to be pessimistic and apathetic, wondering if there will ever be a solution.

“The word ‘crisis’ does imply something that needs to be addressed immediately,” Cleo said. “But it’s too slow of a process. I think it’s because we need to empower more of the community to have a voice. That way you could come out, I could come out, more of the Hispanic community could come out and feel confident in expressing their needs. There is the opportunity to go to local forums, but who has time for that? If you’re a working person, or a parent, or both, you can’t attend those meetings. So, you have the same people who show up every time, and suddenly they’re the only voices in the room.”

Cleo is a local of Jackson Hole, someone who has contributed not only her wealth, but also her heart to the community. There is no official gauge to measure if someone is local enough or worthy enough to have a say in Jackson’s future.

Yes, those with more money will probably have more resources to sway government decisions, but a united community could prove stronger than any dollar amount. Yet we’ve not been able to set aside our prejudices to really put that theory to the test. PJH

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