IVINS: The Perfect Holiday Gift

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- For those of us who are in a bit of lather about the state of the union these days -- and who hate to shop anyway -- the holidays offer a swell opportunity to help save the country and the earth, while getting rid of our entire shopping list at the same time. We can knock off our entire Christmas or Hanukkah gift lists without ever going near a mall.

The perfect answer, of course, is to give money to a worthy cause in the name of your friends and loved ones. You simply send a check in honor of everyone on your list to some worthy cause you know they cherish and regard the simplicity of it. Checks do not require packaging. You will not be adding to the plastic peanut plague, so ecologically incorrect.

A check is such a simple thing -- lightweight, portable, shipped without fuss by the U.S. Post Office for 37 cents -- and the mailperson picks it up for you. You can even call and put your donation on a credit card.

Naturally, the cause to which you contribute in your loved ones' names will be happy to notify them that said cause has received this generous contribution in their names -- and that, as a consequence, the said person is now held among the highest angels of goodness, enlightenment and generosity.

Now, isn't that nicer than another popcorn popper? (Apologies to all who make their living in the popcorn popper field -- just an example chosen at random.)

Many of us already have too much stuff. There are entire stores now devoted to selling nothing but stuff to put our stuff in. Very few of us actually need a cordless electric flour sifter or a $6,000 shower curtain.

At Christmas, we traditionally try to remember those most seriously afflicted by fate. Many newspapers run articles reminding us how hard life is for some and which organizations help them directly. This sort of direct help to those who need it most is both desperately needed and especially appropriate at the season.

But as we often discuss, pulling people who are drowning out of the river one by one isn't necessarily the wisest use of our resources. We need to go upstream and keep them from falling in, in the first place. It is the brigades engaged in such work that I think we should make a special effort to support. I submit a brief list of suggestions just to get you thinking about the kinds of people, causes and efforts that need support.

Whenever I get discouraged about the greed and corruption that seems so rampant in both the corporate and political worlds these days, the thought of Granny D always perks me up. Doris Haddock is the priceless activist who walked across the entire country three years ago at the age of 90 to build support for campaign finance reform. She's at it again, this time traveling from one workplace to another registering people to vote, especially working mothers.

If you go to GrannyD.com, you can find out about her current project and read some of her wonderful letters from the road and find out how you can help.

When Granny D comes around, she just lights up the goodness in people. I would say she's cost effective, but the fact is she's downright cheap. Her address is: P.O. Box 492, Dublin, N.H. 03444.

Wellstone Action, the group founded to honor and carry on the work of the late Sheila and Paul Wellstone, is up, running and training activists, and carrying on that tradition of progressive politics married to vitality, generosity and a sense of fun. Contact: www.wellstone.org or Wellstone Action, 821 Raymond Ave, Suite 260, St. Paul, Minn. 55114.

Two outfits I especially like that watch the media are the Center for Media and Democracy, which specializes in analyzing public relations and propaganda campaigns, and FAIR, the overworked folks trying to keep up with right-wing lies in the corporate media. The Center can be reached through prwatch.org, and FAIR is FAIR.org or 112 West 27th St., New York, N.Y. 10001.

Finally, a gift subscription to a progressive magazine is always timely: your basic ACLU, any environmental outfit, campaign finance reform groups -- you choose your own favorites.

This should be our shining hour.

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