I don't want anything this year. I've been kvetching about the commercialization of Christmas for too long now, and it's time to do something about it. I'll take some socks, because I always want new socks, but that's it.
In lieu of flotsam that will only clutter my life before taking up space in a landfill, I've decided that it truly is better to give than receive. Especially when giving can be an open act of defiance against the immoral, unethical, hypocritical and monstrously scuzzy administration currently occupying the White House, as well as all the fundamentalist right-wingers who put it there. To give credit where it's due, right-wingers learned a long time ago that money talks. If you don't agree with what their money says, join me in taking a page from their book and giving to groups that oppose the conservative cabal at every step. The indictments are coming in, Bush's poll numbers are dropping like a 747 with its engines on fire, and the tide is turning. A little money in the right places right now can go a long way. What better way to celebrate the birth of the guy nicknamed the prince of peace you know, the guy who championed his dad's 'Thou shalt not kill' philosophy? Here are some of the groups on my gift list this year:
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF FLORIDA
Even if you don't agree with their agenda, the American Civil Liberties Union deserves your support because the mere mention of their name sends right-wingers into fits of apoplexy. Know a loudmouthed, sclerotic Republican who won't shut up about gay marriage? Flash your ACLU card and watch him dive for the nitro pills. It's fun!
I happen to agree with most of the ACLU's agenda, which boils down thusly: In America, you don't get to decide who deserves equal protection under the law and who doesn't. That means pornographers, Baptists, skinheads and even the Liberty Counsel have the right to speak their piece. Sadly, too many conservatives have a real problem with the notion that free speech isn't necessarily nice speech. It's their schoolmarmish nature; they can't help it.
Locally, the ACLU has been fighting to restore some sanity to the ever-increasing restrictions on where convicted sex offenders can and can't live, work and play. It's not a popular fight, thanks to lazy journalists and opportunistic politicians who've made no distinction between flashers and child rapists. They're all 'sex offenders' in the public's eye, and they should all be banished to some far, faraway place.
Except … what's this? … even sex offenders have rights. As do gays, minorities, immigrants, Muslims and everyone else who's not welcome in Oviedo. Those are the people the ACLU of Florida fights for.
AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
518 C St. N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Americans United, as it's known in shorthand, was founded in 1947 by a group of people who thought giving public money to private religious schools was a bad idea. And kind of unconstitutional. Almost 60 years later, we're still fighting the same battle, and many more. Through the rise of the religious right in the '70s and '80s to the current Bush administration, AU has been there, pushing back every time fundamentalists decide it's time to put Christ back in the schools, courts and government. A donation to AU is a way of saying you don't believe the government has any business whatsoever dabbling in religion. Which, if you read your First Amendment and it won't take much time because it's only 45 words is the exact point.
On a personal level, I like the AU executive director Rev. Barry Lynn. You'll find him all over the right-wing talk shows, calmly replying as the spittle flies that, yes, he believes in God, and, yes, he believes in America and no, it isn't good policy to mix the two. Barry! Barry! Barry!
I sent AU $75, and they sent me a fantastic book by Robert Boston called Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State. I have a favorite quote from that book I'd like to share, in the spirit of the season: 'Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics.' That's from John Leland, in 1791. Leland was a Baptist minister.
AMERICAN RED CROSS
You and I may have seen hurricanes Katrina and Rita as horrific humanitarian disasters. But to George W. Bush, they were fantastic opportunities to push his faith-based initiative, which is a way to funnel money to religious groups. Of the 24 agencies approved by FEMA to receive donations and volunteers, exactly two were secular. Pat Robertson, that paragon of compassion who called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and blamed the Sept. 11 attacks on America's tolerance of abortion and gays, was prominently featured on the list via his Operation Blessing organization, while experienced disaster-aid agencies, like Operation USA, were shut out. I don't know about you, but I'd like to know more about the Mennonite Disaster Service before I give them my money.
I gave my donation to the American Red Cross, which has a well-deserved reputation for getting people help without proselytizing. My aim was twofold: do what I could to help and give a big middle-finger salute to the Bush doctrine of politicizing everything. Don't get me wrong; faith-based agencies are wonderful and Christians do a world of good. But when they're funded by taxpayer dollars, everybody loses.
Another of the name-brand, stick-in-the-eye groups that's worth supporting because of who is against it. These guys play their 'we're poor' and 'help now or the world will end' cards too often, but their heart is in the right place, and they make cool anti-Bush commercials. I personally saw how they can mobilize locals for a fight when I joined them last October on their get-out-the-vote drive, and it was an impressive sight.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF GREATER ORLANDO
726 S. Tampa Ave.
You gotta love any group of people that stands up tall and proud in this town and shouts to the rooftops that women (and men) are entitled to quality reproductive healthcare, contraception and shame-free information about sex. I used to think Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando was too quiet about their mission, as if they were almost ashamed of it. Then they went out and raised about $1.8 million in private donations (like the government would give any money for contraceptives) to build a new clinic on Tampa Avenue, and expand into Melbourne and Palm Bay, and I changed my mind. This is a hard-charging group of people who believe in what they do and provide a vital service that is quickly disappearing almost everywhere else. They can expect a Christmas present from me this year.
SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
2008 Brengle Ave.
Orlando, FL 32808
No political agenda here, unless you think that believing people shouldn't have to go hungry makes you a bleeding-heart liberal. If so, I'm guilty as firstname.lastname@example.org
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