Only so many holiday seasons can pass before your loved ones tire of receiving the thoughtfully chosen hemp T-shirts and Putumayo CDs that were once the mainstays of the socially conscious gift arsenal. Now that the Internet connects progressive consumers to indigenous craftspeople in developing countries–and to crafty people all over our country–do-gooder gifts are just a click away.
Since most people are always hoping for a cashmere sweater, don’t be annoyed if they exhibit mild but visible disappointment when you give them a book. (Hint: Tuck a crisp $20 bill between the pages to generate more enthusiasm.) Books are often the most cherished present years down the line, none perhaps more so than classics like William Strunk and E.B. White’s Elements of Style, which has just been updated with illustrations by New Yorker contributor Maira Kalman.
Actions Speak Louder Than Bumper Stickers features ninety-six of the funniest decals currently on the road, each accompanied by sobering facts that ground the punch lines in the harsh reality from whence they spring. Young New Yorkers Aaron Rudenstine and Olivia Greer have captured the zeitgeist in a time capsule of leftist one-liners.
If humor is your preferred coping mechanism for dealing with three more years, Jon Stewart’s America (The Calendar) will make each morning a little brighter, until you read the newspaper.
When no wit is strong enough to dull the pain of W.’s foibles, drink reality away with a case of organic wine. Chartrand Imports brings in organic wines from all over Europe; founder Paul Chartrand discovered many while working on organic farms in France.
As long as it’s not a leaden fruitcake, gifts of food are always welcome. The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s bakery, Sweet Things, was created to familiarize girls ages 8 to 18, and their mothers, with the principles and day-to-day details of entrepreneurship. They’ll send a gift tin of their fabulous gingerbread or iced butter cookies to your loved ones for a $25 donation, or you can order trays of cookies for the office, a mother-daughter apron set with the secret butter cookie recipe, or individual cookies
There are a number of organic fair-trade chocolates on the market, but Art Bars from Ithaca Fine Chocolates goes an extra mile, donating 10 percent of its profits to art education.
Shopping for a vegan can be trying, but Yachana Gourmet’s "Jungle Chocolate" is pure cacao nibs with just a bit of sugar cane juice, and all profits go toward saving the rainforest and supporting sustainable development programs in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Smaller progressives will appreciate a George W. Bush coloring book or a Barbie for President doll, which was made by Mattel in partnership with The White House Project (https://secure3.ctsg.com/VRL/store/Category.asp?category=5).
Fanny at the Chez Panisse, by Alice Waters, is a cookbook-cum-Eloise story that details the adventures of her daughter Fanny at her famous Berkeley restaurant. It’s a wonderful way to teach kids about whole foods and the importance of community-based agriculture, and the recipes are great for inept adults as well!
Dolls from MonkeyBiz are made from wire and hand-beaded by women from underprivileged communities in South Africa, and are available at ABC Home in New York, which has a wide range of socially conscious gifts (call 212-473-3000, ext. 501 to order).
Babies also make excellent billboards, so rally yours with a "President Poopyhead" T-shirt from babywit.com.
While Sharon flails about the Knesset, Palestinian and Israeli women have teamed up as Lakiya Negev Weaving to sell a stunning variety of rugs, woven using traditional Bedouin techniques. Made by the Palestinian women and marketed by the Israeli women, they are a study in small-scale conflict resolution and female empowerment.
Organic flowers are a good standby for who-knows-what-the-hell-they-want relatives.
Distract yourself with a few hands of cards using the War Profiteers Card Deck, one of the many decks modeled after the "Most Wanted" pack handed out to GIs at the start of the Iraq war. Or play "Wreck the Nation," a board game in which each player starts as a politician with $1 trillion of public money. The first politician to spend it all wins!
If that spendthrift feeling catches on, $325 buys a solar backpack from the Museum of Modern Art Design Store. It’s a mobile power source that uses three solar panels to charge your cargo (cellphones, iPods, radios cameras) as you tote it around. It will do a heckuva job tiding you over until FEMA restores the electricity.
Downtown for Democracy commissions both famous and up-and-coming artists and designers to make political T-shirts. This year, proceeds are going to their Take Back New York campaign, to help save a state that has become, in their words, "a political backwater of Texas and Mississippi led by conservative Republicans who swear allegiance to a party that has nothing but disdain for our state and its values." The Unemployed Philosophers Guild also has a good selection of T-shirts, gags like Axis of Evil finger puppets and breath-freshening National Embarrass-mints and Indict-mints, featuring the usual suspects.
Whatever you’re giving, a card from www.cardcarryingliberal.com will clarify your message. "Trim the tree/uproot the Bush" is a timeless nugget of holiday wisdom, at least for the next three years.
If none of these gifts are quite progressive enough for you, consider donating to Katha Pollitt’s favorite charities.
And we couldn’t end the gift guide without a shameless plug for Nation subscriptions–what could be better than a year of unconventional wisdom?