What a rotten year! Not for me personally–quite the reverse in fact, as also for you, I hope–but for the things we care about: women’s rights, the environment, social justice, world peace, civil liberties and civil rights. And what’s that sound I hear? Troops massing on the Iraqi border? A herd of eager reactionaries galumphing through Congress on their way to sit on the federal bench for the rest of their lives and, more to the point, ours? Democrats scratching their heads, wondering why they exist? One of these days even Ralph Nader will have to admit that campaigning hard in swing states like, I dunno, Florida was not a helpful move way back in 2000.

So let’s get busy. I happen to know that many people on your holiday shopping list do not want or need more sweaters, earrings, beer-making kits or Best of Bob Marley CDs. They would prefer a book of poetry–I’m giving Sharon Olds’s vibrant The Unswept Room–or a Nation subscription, or a vintage uncut sheet of Richard Nixon stamps. But what they would like most of all is for you to make a donation to an organization that’s fighting the good fight. Here are some small, low- or no-overhead groups that will make excellent use of your end-of-year gift.

The Kopkind Colony. Andy Kopkind was for many years The Nation‘s star journalist, as well as its heart, soul and resident bon vivant, and he is still much missed by staff and readers lucky enough to have known him or his writing. He would have loved the Kopkind Colony, founded by friends in his memory, which provides free ten-day sessions–talks, seminars, food and fun–for young activists and journalists on the left, at his beloved Vermont farm. The entire annual budget for this mostly volunteer effort at left-wing institution-building could fit inside the monthly croissant bill at the American Enterprise Institute. Whether you knew Andy personally, or just looked forward to his incomparably shrewd (and funny) dispatches from all over, there’s no better way to honor his spirit. Send your tax-deductible donation to the Kopkind Colony, 158 Kopkind Road, Guilford, VT 05301.

Freedom From Religion Foundation. You don’t have to be an atheist to love this organization, you just have to take seriously the apparently radical notion that church and state should be separate–no Ten Commandments in the courtroom, no Bible teaching in public schools, no “under God” in the Pledge. The FFRF has brought–and won–important lawsuits (against evangelical Bible college students proselytizing in Tennessee public schools, for example) and needs all the help it can get to fight the oncoming deluge of federally funded Christianity for the poor in the guise of social services. Membership ($40/individual) brings a sub to Freethought Today, a lively publication that will make you feel that you are not alone, even if you are. FFRF Inc., Box 750, Madison, WI 53701 (www.ffrf.org).

Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center. One way to work against the death penalty is to keep people off death row. “The LCAC is more like a group of missionaries than lawyers,” Nation contributing editor Bruce Shapiro tells me. “They take on the cases no one else wants–not just innocence cases but the kind of undeniably guilty defendants where the only victory is a life sentence–and investigate like mad, basically moving in with their clients’ families to build a body of mitigating evidence. They’re saving lives one client at a time and slowing Louisiana’s executions down to near zero from one of the highest rates in the country.” Send these hardworking, peanuts-paid people a check, and drop death-penalty devotee George W. Bush a note letting him know. Make checks payable to LCAC and send to the attention of Kim Watts, 636 Baronne Street, New Orleans, LA 70113 (www.thejusticecenter.org/lcac).

Women for Afghan Women. Remember Afghan women? The vast majority are still desperately poor, lacking in everything needed for a decent life, from healthcare and food to human rights and employment. On a tiny budget, this group of Afghan and non-Afghan women from the New York area funds an impressive variety of grassroots projects: Ninety-eight literacy classes for girls and women all over Afghanistan, five primary schools in refugee camps, emergency aid for 3,000 refugee families, plus scholarships, carpet-weaving classes for women and various projects of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. In the works are plans for computer classes and for income-generating projects like beekeeping and poultry raising. (Note: I’m on the advisory board, but don’t let that dissuade you.) Checks should be made out to Women for Afghan Women, with “FVEF” or “direct aid” on the memo line. WAW, Box 152, Midtown Station, New York, NY 10018 (www.womenforafghanwomen.org).

Concord Feminist Health Center. This wonderful clinic provides first-rate, respectful and sensitive reproductive healthcare, including abortion, to women in a pro-choice state that has unfortunately just elected anti-choicers John Sununu to the Senate and Craig Benson to the governor’s mansion. Now is the time to support the center’s mission to care for poor and uninsured patients, and its philosophy of trusting women to make their own decisions and to handle the emotions they raise. CFHC, 38 South Main Street, Concord, NH 03301 (www.fwhc.org/concord).

Readers out West might choose to support the Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula, Montana, the first feminist-run clinic in the state, burned to the ground nearly ten years ago by an anti-choice zealot but risen from the ashes and carrying on its excellent–but underfunded–mission in a vastly underserved part of the country. Note on your check that it’s a donation and mail to 610 N. California, Missoula, MT 59802 (www.bluemountainclinic.com).

Resist. An easy and reliable way to support all the great grassroots groups you’ve never heard of is to donate to this venerable organization, which funds a lot of them: welfare, gay, prisoners’ and women’s rights; antiwar and antipoverty work; community, student immigrant and labor organizing; disability activism and more. Resist vets the groups so you don’t have to. Resist, Inc., 259 Elm Street, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144 (www.resistinc.org).