By Franklin Ortega
Looking at the beautiful scenery of Taos, NM, it’s hard to imagine the struggles facing many of its residents. With a total population of 5,716, this rural town faces issues with poverty, cultural/social clashes, and threats to the land and its way of life.
These same problems are the very aspects that make Taos so unique, drawing tourists, artists, independent thinkers and those who want to reconnect with the land.
Taosenos come from different cultural and economic backgrounds. The median household income is $29,953. Those living below poverty level is 24.4%. Owner occupied housing is roughly 50%, and the property tax for Taos is $152,289,600.
The roughly 300 non-profits in Taos need funds to keep going, and are all fighting to gain support for various causes. Among these stand many environmental, conservation, and biodiversity groups. Most started as grass roots movements, such as Amigos Bravos, a Taos organization fighting for water conservation across New Mexico. Or the
Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), made up of only a few attorneys to hold polluters accountable throughout NM, and the west. WELC works tirelessly, taking on pro-bono environmental cases in 11 western states.
WELC attorney Kyle Tisdale earns one-third less than he could be making at for-profit law firm. But, he told Nina Flournoy’s Environmental Comm class in Taos recently, that it’s not about the money, as is the sentiment among many who work in the nonprofit sector. For him, it’s about making a difference. “I help rural communities fight to preserve their resilient, local economies, built on producing the food we eat, as well as work to secure our transition to clean, renewable energy from the sun and wind,” he said.
Also fighting the good fight on a shoestring budget is Taos-based Amigos Bravos, which has successfully taken on and succeeded in holding major entities accountable for committing devastating environmental abuses. In 2011 Amigos Bravos reported total revenue of $357,913, total expenses of $351,503, and assets of $114,588. While it is hardly a high-dollar company, it continues to take on powerful giants in government and industry that have polluted area rivers.
Although Amigos Bravos and Western Environmental Law Center represent two thriving environmental groups, many others in the Taos area struggle or go under. As our class examines these challenges facing local non-profits and the creative ways they used communication to remain viable, I am impressed by the heart and soul that drives many nonprofits here.
Franklin Ortega is a Junior at SMU majoring in Communication Studies, and currently taking Environmental Communication in Taos, NM.