If you’re really organized you’ve already completed your holiday shopping for the year. If so, you can take a break from this column. But if you’re like me and still looking for holiday presents with a progressive slant, keep reading for ideas, many of them courtesy of my crack intern researcher Mike Fox (who also plays a mean fiddle and whose band’s CD makes a nice holiday gift too).
First, check out Katha Pollitt’s latest Nation column, which upholds her recent tradition of offering annual suggestions for giving to groups and organizations doing unbelievable work with shockingly little money. The efficiency of some of these places would awe a McKinsey consultant, so look them over before you make your final round of charitable contributions this year.
Heifer International also makes it easy to help assist needy families far from home. The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase an animal that can be a life-line for families in the developing world. A pig can be bought for $120 (or chip in $10 to help share the cost of one), three rabbits are a bargain at $60 total, a flock of chicks costs only $20, and if you’re feeling really generous, a $1,500 donation provides two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas.
It’s true that donating to Heifer is wholly apolitical and does nothing to shake the fundamental global divide between rich and poor, which creates so much unnecessary misery around the world. But people need to eat while change is being made and I like to think of outfits like Heifer as offering the opportunity for the world’s well-off to voluntarily redistribute a bit of their incomes to those that need the money much more than we do.
On to gifts for friends and family: For a range of socially responsible ideas, see the Center for a New American Dream’s Conscious Consumer Marketplace. Things like gift baskets with fair trade coffee and organic chocolate, hand lotion and organic cotton clothing are easy to find, as are big-ticket items like wood furniture, energy-efficient kitchen appliances and gift certificates that can be used on a range of green travel packages. There’s even a section of presents for college students looking to “green their dorm room.”
Over at the GreenGuide, Karen Mockler offers a good case for why parents with young kids should be wary of anything but strictly non-toxic toys this holiday season and tells us where to go and what to get. (NorthStar Toys, featuring a five-piece wooden train set, was my favorite of the companies she recommends.) And–especially if you have a newborn–check out EcoBaby for organic and safe clothes, toys, bedding, bath products, diapers and much more. They’re offering free shipping until December 25.
Another good place to shop online is from an innovative collective in India which started in 1986 with only three women, and now employs 480 artisans in 14 artisan-owned cooperatives in and around Mumbai, India. MarketPlace: Handwork of India is a nonprofit, fair trade organization whose intricate handmade clothing and decorative items provide an alternative to the inequities of conventional trade between developed and developing countries.
The idea is to provide access to global markets for low-income Indian women by using design to bridge the gap between skills and markets. And their clothes are nice! Not everything is for everybody, but there’s an impressive range of apparel at reasonable prices. And anything can be returned easily with no charge.
The Co-Op America holiday catalogue offers scores of links to small companies and collectives all offering short-term discounts through Co-Op America’s site. You can find everything from calendars and cards to food and wine to amber jewelry and Ms. Magazine. Through the Global Exchange holiday site you can buy cosmetic cases created by the Lisu Tribe of Northern China and Burma, hand-stitched quilts from India, teddy bears from Sri Lanka, rugs from the Philippines and Bush playing cards made in the U.S. of A.
In Grist, the internet’s premiere environmental magazine, Sarah van Schagen and Sarah Kraybill break down your gift listees into useful demographics before offering gift ideas. There are eco-jeans for the “Trendy Clotheshorse”; natural pet cleaning supplies for the “Pet Obsessed”; a solar phone charger for your “Hipster” friends; Eco-friendly hair color, eye makeup, and lipstick–all in black, of course–for those “Angsty Teens” on your list; bottles of organic beer and bamboo baseball bats for the “Sports Fanatics”; and for those “Anti-Enviros” you must shop for: biodegradable golf balls and tees. They’ll never know the difference.
Finally, my boss will not be pleased if I neglect to plug The Nation‘s revamped Online Shop. Given the rush on our antiwar buttons and anti-Bush apparel this past year, we’ve developed a full catalogue of new Nation merchandise. All clothing is union-made, ideal for gifts, and can be purchased online in just a few minutes.
Discounted Books by Katrina vanden Heuvel, Victor Navasky, Molly Ivins and many others.