Column

Know Your Neighbor: Jennie Begley

Life of activism leads to new community in Taos

By Kathy Córdova
For the Taos News
Posted 2/13/19

Besides activism and environmental issues, Begley enjoys a rich, full life of related pursuits. "I have two passions - time with my son and volunteering."

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Column

Know Your Neighbor: Jennie Begley

Life of activism leads to new community in Taos

Posted

Activism, attempting to right a wrong or creating an awareness about a controversial issue, can change a person's life. This is exactly what happened to Jennie Begley.

Raised in Washington state, the current Taos resident has broad experience as a political and environmental activist that's informed her life's work.

Early years

"I grew up in Grace Harbor County in Northwest Washington. It was a small place, much the size of Taos," Begley said in a recent interview. "After I graduated from high school, I moved to a big city - Portland, Oregon. I didn't like it because it was too big."

She moved to Olympia, Washington, to remain closer to family. There, Begley, who has an early childhood education certificate from Tacoma Community College, taught preschool. Later, Begley taught in a special education program at Kamachin Middle School. Using her skills with special needs children, Begley worked at a foster home for high-needs medically challenged children. "This activity created in me a desire to open a similar home, but one for children who aged out of the place for younger children. I even got a license, but then Khalifa was born, and I wanted to spend time with my son," said Begley. Instead of opening a home, she worked as a Yellow Cab driver in order to spend days with Khalifa while family members cared for him in the evenings.

An activist rises

Over the years, Begley has volunteered at an activist news radio station and worked with the Food Not Bombs Garden in exchange for board in Olympia, Washington. She joined Media Island International, an activist research center, which supports local grassroots movements such as Black Lives Matter. The group blocked the local port from importing goods shipped to support the war in The Middle East. She worked with the Backbone Campaign/Kayak Flotilla against a Shell Oil rig illegally docked in the Port of Seattle awaiting the opportunity to drill in Alaska. Kayakers boarded the Shell rig and ended what they perceived as the anti-environmental activity. She also helped Idle No More, an indigenous-led grassroots resistance to educate people about colonization, create an awareness for environmental protection and of indigenous rights. "Our demonstrations were always successful. I think that's because we were peaceful and respectful," Begley said.

In 2014, Begley viewed the documentary "The Garbage Warrior." The message in the film resonated with her social justice work. "Working with resistance groups is exhausting and intrusive. It can be depressing, heavily oppressive and tiring. I also longed for a more peaceful means to live," Begley said. "Taos is the lifestyle I wanted for us. I threw caution to the winds and jumped in with both feet. I packed up and left."

Taos life

Begley arrived in Taos to participate in a community project. Begley and her son, the only family members to live in Taos and New Mexico, left relatives to move to this area. Khalifa is now 8 years old and a third-grader at Arroyos del Norte School. Begley's mother is Rena Fall and her father is Russell Stankey. Four siblings reside in four states: Candy in Washington; Kaitlin in Wyoming; Kaylan in Oregon; and Jeffrey in California.

As an environmental activist, Begley couldn't help but note the absence of a significant sustainable community in Washington state. She set out to Taos when her son was five at the time, and her friend Alexis, who served as a nanny at the time. Begley attended the Academy/Internship Program Earthship Biotecture at The Greater World Earthship Community, a three-step program. Step one included four weeks of education. The second step, also four weeks long, used the title Dirt to Doorknobs, providing the details of building an earthship. The third and final step allowed Begley to use her skills off-site (in Salida, Colorado) to create an independent project. She received an academic grant and purchased recording equipment to create online classes and marketing; Begley completed her project in three weeks' time. Her projects at that time included the creation of a children's book about earthships and an RV devoted to the use of solar power.

In the meantime, Khalifa enrolled at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School. At the end of Begley's internship, she sought employment. For six months, Begley worked at Dream Tree, a nonprofit devoted to helping homeless youth in Taos. In addition, she served as a substitute teacher at Enos Garcia and Arroyos del Norte schools. Her activist's heart belonged at the earthship community, but Begley questioned her skill set: "I have no experience as an electrician, a carpenter or a plumber. What could I do there?" she asked.

Earthship ambassador

In January 2016, Begley received the offer of a position at the earthship community's visitor's center. The residences at The Greater World Earthship Community include solar power, backup AC/DC current and a unique water system. Snow melt and water harvested from the roof provide sink and shower water. Gray water filtered by the plants provides toilet water. Excess water drains into an indoor garden, thus providing beauty and food. Washing, showering and cooking are all integrated into the environmental home concept. Begley admires the flexibility and state approval of the earthship housing movement.

Currently, Begley manages one of the student housing campuses. An older model earthship, The Hive, hosts 12 people at a time and allows students from all over the world to live on-site, fully submerged in this type of housing. Tours of the earthship visitors' center are free for Taos area residents; guided educational group tours through the community remain available for a donation to the nonprofit.

Spare time

Besides activism and environmental issues, Begley enjoys a rich, full life of related pursuits. "I have two passions - time with my son and volunteering. When I had more time, I volunteered at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School. I also like to complete grant research," said Begley. She doesn't own a television set but she has enjoyed the movies "The Black Panther" and the older version of "Mary Poppins." Her culinary tastes vary from tacos to posole to menudo.

"I'm glad I made the changes in my life. Activism is still a part of me, but I'm doing this in a calmer manner than in the past. It's easy to exist and be happy here. I'm surrounded by nature, including a river, hot springs and hiking. Becoming involved in The Greater World Earthship Community has definitely changed my life … for the better," said Begley.

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