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Yesterday, I found myself lamenting the fact that there were very few options for socially-concious shopping when it came to entertainment purchases, such as books, movies and music. I tried in vain to find a newly released CD (which shall remain nameless- it’s a holiday present!) at two different local music shops in my neighborhod, only to find that they sold mostly used CDs and therefore didn’t have the CD I was looking for quite yet. It was the same with local bookstores: a lot of local stores sell either mainly used books or tend to be speciality book stores and focus on certain subjects. It’s nearly impossible to find a quality book on coffee-roasting in a used bookstore or a bookstore that focuses on women’s rights (no matter how much that bookstore rules!!). I found myself sneakily eyeing the local Borders and crying desparately, “There has to be another way!!!”

Well, my friends, guess what? There is! Check out alonovo: a self-proclaimed “intelligent marketplace.” Here’s the lowdown: alonovo’s mission is to “connect the concept of corporate behavior directly to the profit motive.” They do this in a number of ways:

  • They use data from independent sources like KLD Research and Analysis to provide information about how companies behave and how socially-concious they are. You can “set your values” by rating different types of social responsiblity and how important they are to you, and then alonovo will rate the companies based on your values. They don’t have a lot of information about many companies quite yet, but I have faith that this will definitely grow.
  • What’s even cooler is that alnovo has committed to contributing between 20% and 40% of their revenue to a non-profit organization of your choice. Their list ranges from NOW to the Sierra Club to the National Education Association. I chose NOW, but it was a really tough choice as there are plenty of amazing organizations to choose from.

They do a lot of their shopping through Amazon, so you’re still ordering things from a very reliable source, but a good portion of your money is going towards a great cause! So, what are you waiting for?

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As the holidays roll around, I’m sure we’re all starting to scratch our heads and ponder what to get our loved ones. I’d love to blog all about the holidays and consumerism, but I’m going to save that for another day. Besides, it would totally defeat the purpose of what I’m about to tell you!

So, as we’re all constructing our shopping lists and checking them twice, please consider buying gifts from socially-concious shops. There are so many organizations that offer beautiful gifts that are handcrafted by men and women all around the world. Not only that, but the proceeds of those purchases go towards helping those less fortunate- be it formerly incarcerated women, men and women in third-world countries, fair-trade farmers or domestic abuse survivors. I know it’s so easy to run to Target or your local super mall to grab everything you need for a cheap price and save some cash for the holidays. But please take a moment and think of those less fortunate than you. Think of the environment. Think of the future.

Have I inspired you yet? Check out the plethora of sites available. I really just scratched the surface, thanks to Britt Bravo of the awesome Have Fun, Do Good blog and some of my own basic research:

The V-Day Shop– Remember the Vagina Monologues? Well, the movement that started that, V-Day is still going quite strong and has a small shop where you can buy a few items to help support the movement to end violence against women.

Women and Children First– This is a fantastically fabulous woman-owned and run bookstore, specializing in women’s issues and LGBT issues. They’re an independently owned bookstore, which is definitely an endangered species, so all the more reason to shop there! You can order online or check out their shop in Andersonville. Bonus: They donate 10% of their proceeds to a different women’s or LGBT organization every month.

Oxfam America– Oxfam is an international organization dedicated to making positive change for the poor by focusing on three main areas: development, emergency relief and campaigning. Their American site offers lots of great ideas for holiday shopping. Buy a cow for a family in a developing country and help provide an entire economic support system. You can also buy other animals and gardens, irrigate a farmer’s land for 2 months (for only $20!), help support indigenous women or small business owners or provide gender rights training for community activists. They’ve also got a great list of other great ways to help the poor through your shopping, including fair trade products as well as a list of groups around the US who offer homemade foods and crafts and support rural communities.

Women’s Bean Project, Inc.– This Denver-based initiative teaches workplace competencies for entry-level jobs through employment and by teaching job readiness. They employ women with histories of poverty, unemployment, a lack of education, single mothers, etc. They sell mostly food such as soups, cookie mixes, and spice rubs.

The Enterprising Kitchen– Very much like Women’s Bean Project, but this one is Chi-town based and they offer natural soaps, candles, and other fun bath products. The women here have the opportunity to work in all aspects of an enterprise: manufacturing, customer service, direct sales, assembly, production and shipping and receiving. I’ve actually been here and seen the warehouse in action, and it is mighty impressive.

Thistle Farms– Similar to the previous two groups, but with a little extra- Thistle Farms is the cottage business of Magdalene, a two-year residential community in Nashville, TN for women with a criminal history of addiction and prostitution. They offer natural and organic handmade healing products which reflects their desire to heal themselves.

The Nest– A non-profit that supports women artists and artisans of the developing world by helping creat sustainable entrepreneurial businesses. They provide micro-credit loans (all the rage these days) that are used for purchasing necessary supplies and materials for beginning/maintaining arts and crafts-based businesses. They raise this money through the sales of merchandise exclusively produced by both well-known artisans as well as the recipients of the micro-credit loans as repayment for their loans.

Rosie’s Place– The mission of Rosie’s Place is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for poor and homless women in the Boston area. They introduce women to craft skills and the basics of merchandising and offer a source of income to the artisans through their Women’s Craft Cooperative. Check out what they can make out of beautiful buttons!

Ten Thousand Villages– A non-profit group that sells handcrafts from artisans all over the world and gives them the profits. Novel idea, right? There are stores all over the country, but for you Chicagoans, there’s one in Evanston and one opening soon in Oak Park, not to mention 2 in the ‘burbs (Glen Ellyn and Grayslake).

Global Girlfriend– A fair-trade boutique selling specialty hand-made gifts and goods made by numerous women’s non-profit programs, women’s cooperatives worldwide and products that benefit women’s human rights.

The Lime– For the eco-friendly loved one. I’ve just recently discovered this site, but here they offer a number of eco-friendly ideas for every type of person in your life as well as mention other sites to check out with similar lists.

Of course, if there’s nothing you can find in these sites, peruse at your own leisure. There are plenty of great organizations out there that offer some fabulous gifts that in turn make this world a better place. Maybe you’re no into the whole physical gift thing. That’s cool. Instead, donate to an organization that benefits someone you know or an organization that works for a cause that your loved one holds dear, such as UNICEF (you can buy greeting cards, too) or the Make A Wish Foundation.

Still can’t find anything cool? The least you can do is try and shop local.

Most of us have seen or at least heard of An Inconvenient Truth, right? I’m sure that most of you have heard about how many millions of tons of carbon dioxide is emitted into the air every year. And yet, especially during the holidays, traveling is still a necessity. What is an aspiring eco-friendly bloke like yourself to do?

In comes our savior- Terrapass. This group calculates how many pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted from your traveling (with some help from Google Maps), whether it be flying or driving.
Example: A round-trip flight from Chicago to San Francisco (about 7,400 miles) uses 147 gallons of fuel and emits 2,883 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.

Yikes! That’s a lot of global-warming causing gook. But, according to Terrapass’s calculations, for a mere $36.95, I can buy the offset of 7,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and breathe (great pun!) easy.

Another example: A 2001 Ford Focus with manual transmission and an average of 15,000 miles a year emits about 9,176 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.

Ouch! That’s way too much! But what about all of those greenheads out there in the ‘burbs where public transportation is virtually non-existent (Sorry, Pace)? Never fear! For a simple $49.95 a year, you can offset all of your nasty CO2 discharge.

What does the money buy, you ask? Terrapass uses the money to support energy projects that balance out the climate impact that we make, such as wind energy, biomass and industrial efficiency.

Don’t believe them? Terrapass is audited every year by the Center for Resource Solutions, the leading certification agency in the renewable energy market. Terrapass is the only organization in the industry that goes through this verification process. Still not satisfied? They offer a 100% money-back guarantee.

So, please, whether you’re traveling this week for Thanksgiving or making plans to get the heck outta freezing dodge over the December holidays, please consider this small financial investment that pays back bigger than we could ever imagine.

Post-Script: They even have special holiday ideas!

One of many, rest assured. So, the Catholic Church set new guidelines for gay outreach last week. Here are the highlights with some commentary by yours truly. It should be noted that I am not actually a scholar of the Catholic Church. I know very little about it and while I respect everyone’s right to worship who/what they choose, I obviously have some beefs with the Catholic Church:

  • All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected.

Now, does that really mean all people or just the people who believe in your god and your bible? And what about the innate human dignity of the gay community? How acknowledged and respected is that when you won’t recognize gay marriage or even gay love?

  • In keeping with this conviction, the Church teaches that persons with a homosexual inclination must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

Again, a really great notion, if it were actually practiced. I find it hard to buy that the Catholic Church (and yes, I’m speaking in broad generalizations. I’m aware of Catholics who support the LGBT community) treats the gay community with respect, compassion and sensitivity when it refuses to recognize the basic human rights that the gay community deserves.

  • By its very nature, the sexual act finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality.

Does this mean that once gay marriage is accepted in the Constitution (notice I don’t say “if gay marriage is accepted”), then gay sex will be ok with the Catholic Church?

  • While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one’s free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency. Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin. Consequently, the Church does not teach that the experience of homosexual attraction is in itself sinful.

My translation: “It’s ok to say that you’re gay. You can be attracted to the same sex. That’s your free will. You just can’t live a life that would be in any way fulfilling and joyful. Happiness is not part of free will.”

  • A considerable number of people who experience same-sex attraction experience it as an inclination that they did not choose.

Wait, did the Catholic Church just admit that homosexuality isn’t a choice?

  • The local Church community is also a place where the person with a homosexual inclination should experience friendship. This community can be a rich source of human relationships and friendships, so vital to living a healthy life. In fact, within the Church human friendship is raised to a new order of love, that of brothers and sisters in Christ.

My translation: “You can still be a member of the Catholic Church and give us your money. We’re just going to look down on you as a worse sinner than we are.”

  • In fact, the Church actively asserts and promotes the intrinsic dignity of every person. As human persons, persons with a homosexual inclination have the same basic rights as all people, including the right to be treated with dignity. Nevertheless “‘sexual orientation’ does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to nondiscrimination.

Another translation: “We can discriminate against you all we want even though we just admitted above that you don’t have a choice, just like race or ethnic background. But race and ethnic background are not valid reasons for discrimination, even though they don’t have a choice. Are we clear?”

  • For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a Church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in the Christian life. In the context of parish life, however, general public self-disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged.

Translation: Please live in the closet as best you can. We don’t want the whole world knowing that we allow gays in our church.

  • Similarly, the Church does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples since homosexual unions are contrary to the divine plan.
  • Baptism of children in the care of same-sex couples presents a serious pastoral concern. Nevertheless, the Church does not refuse the Sacrament of Baptism to these children, but there must be a well founded hope that the children will be brought up in the Catholic religion. In those cases where Baptism is permitted, pastoral ministers should exercise prudential judgment when preparing baptismal ceremonies. Also, in preparing the baptismal record, a distinction should be made between natural parents and adoptive parents

A nice double standard: “We don’t want you adopting kids. But, if you are to adopt, make sure to baptise them as Catholics so we can teach them all about how their parents’ love is wrong and intolerable by our god. It’s even worse than all those priests of ours who had those problems back in the day.”

I exaggerate, I know. I jump to a few conclusions, sure. But it’s hard not to feel enraged. Everyone made such a big deal out of the Catholic Church coming out with a new stance on homosexuals. Um, what is this new stance? Let’s see….homosexuality still a sin? Check. Gay marriage still not allowed? Check. The only difference I see here is that now they’ll allow mostly closeted gays and their adopted children to be a part of the Church.

I’ll save the religion rant for another day. Here’s my basic idea: if god made everyone in “his” image, then wouldn’t that mean that gays are the same as everyone else? I know, I may be simplifying it too much. Regardless of what I believe now, I grew up learning about a god that was loving of all people; that sin was sin, regardless of what kind of a sin it was.

I think if Christians (again, broad generalization, I know) spent more time practicing the love that they claim their savior died for, maybe things would be a little different.

Treat yourself this holiday season! Kick off your holidays with festive, feminist fun and join the women of Chicago NOW’s Lesbian Rights Team at Early to Bed for our third Wine and Cheese soiree. Meet the women of Chicago NOW’s Lesbian Rights Team! Shop at a sex-positive, feminist-owned sex toy store! Learn about all of the nifty toys that are on the market. Come for the free nibbles and wine and stay for the company and raffle prizes. The event is free and open to the public although donations are encouraged. Mistletoe not included! Happy Holidays!

Come have some fun and find the perfect Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Kwanzaa gift for that special someone in your life 🙂

We need more PSAs like this

I’ve recently encountered a pretty interesting website, and while I’ve done a little bit of investigating, I can’t claim to be fully educated on it yet. From what I can tell, this is a group that encourages intuitive learning as well as promotes ways to grow positively and adapt to change more readily. Sounds pretty good, right? This month, they’ve started a movement called “Sacred Cow Tipping”. Basically, for each day in November, they state what they call a Sacred Cow. From the website:

“Sacred Cows are social agreements, decrees, doctrines, adages or points of law that have outlived their positive purpose, if there ever was one, and have become a burden to our evolution.”

What they then do is try to empower readers to “tip” that sacred cow over and come to terms with any connections they’ve had with that cow, thus overcoming them. There’s a visual process to it as well, which I believe helps you concentrate on what your inner-self is telling you. Being an uneducated believer in the power of thought and mindfulness, I really dig this whole process. Their first Sacred Cow (scroll down to November 1st) really caught my eye as something we can all strive to tip:

“Approval from the outside world is more important than inner direction.”

I personally find this to be very appropriate as a budding activist. I think there are many times when we want to take that next step forward in our commitments to the causes we hold dear, but oftentimes that next step is a little scary. Whether it be soundly voicing your opinion on an issue you formerly stayed quiet about, signing a petition, canvassing, attending a march/rally/protest, or even just forcing yourself to think about an issue in a different light, the idea of the outside world disapproving of it can cause us to hesitate from moving forward. There’s a reason that we feel moved to do the things we do, and I think if we listened a little more to that voice pushing us to move forward and less about what society or even our friends and family think, we may be able to make some real and positive changes. I mean, where would we be if all the great leaders and activists in the world never took chances due to fear of the outside world’s reaction?

So, I challenge everyone (all 4 of my loyal readers) to try and listen to that inner direction more and see where it takes you. More often than not, the result will pleasantly surprise you.

For two years, I lived in a country where corruption ran rampant. Unlike here in the US, it was poorly hidden. Elections were very obvious indicators of this. I was lucky enough to be present during a shot-gun presidential election (the then-president had died tragically in an airplane crash) as well as a parliamentary election AND a referendum. I remember hearing about scare tactics by all parties, extremely biased election judges, and constant ballot box stuffing. While it was disheartening to hear of such raging scandal in a country that I grew to love so dearly, I expected it. It was, after all, a “developing country.”

I now live in Chicago, and we all know the slogan here: “Vote early, vote often!” I had my first experience with the Chicago voting system on Tuesday and was a little surprised at what I found:

I entered the Days Inn Hotel around 12:30 on Election Day, excited to take part in such an important mid-term election. As it was only my second time voting in person, I was a little nervous, but confident that I could maneuver my way around a voting booth. I stepped up to the table, voter card and ID in hand as well as a piece of mail from my current address (my drivers license still has my old ‘burbs address on it). I greeted the kind-looking election judge in front of me, proudly stated my name and extended my hand to give him my voter card.

“Oh no, we don’t need that. You look like an honest face,” the older gentleman told me with a chuckle.

WHAT?! So, does that mean that I could have given any name of anyone that I knew who was registered to vote in my precinct as well as go to any precinct and give any name, as long as I have an honest face? I confusedly took my voter card and proceeded to rock the vote, all the while a little troubled by how easy it apparently is to screw the system.

Funnily enough, it seems as though this election faced the same voting fraud and issues as 2004. Will we hear as much ruckus about it now as we did then? Probably not. Now, don’t get me wrong- I was unbelievably upset at the 2000 and 2004 outcomes and was one of the many liberal voices complaining (although, unfortunately, not doing much else to help solve the problem). Now that the election seems to have gone in favor of the Left, will there be as much of an outcry? Even there is, it doesn’t seem like much is being done about it. In the end, the result was more favorable to the majority, but does that excuse all of the problems that happened on the way to getting that result?

This all begs the question that’s been floating around in my head since Tuesday: Is our voting system really much better than that of the “developing countries” that we dismiss so easily?

I don’t think so.

I go off to lunch, and I come back to see this:

Rumsfeld stepping down

The Republican machine is starting to fall apart. Hallelujah!

Now it may be a little early to start talking about the election while a few crucial races are still being tallied and, unfortunately, may not be determined until December, thanks to Virgina recount laws. But, here’s my recap of the so-far surprising victories, upsetting loses and everything in between (with a special emphasis on IL):

The House

Congratulations to Democrats for gaining (as of 7:15 am CST) 28 seats, which is well over their needed 15. Hooray for Nancy Pelosi becoming the first female Speaker of the House. You know what that means? Only two higher positions left never to be held by a female: vice president and president. (Hillary 2008, anyone? We’ll save that for another day- I’m still undecided.)

Melissa Bean was able to hold her seat in the IL 08 district, my former hometown district. I was shocked at how close the vote was 2 years ago when she was running against Phil Crane, so I’m equally as shocked to see that it wasn’t as close of a race this time around. Nevertheless, I’m glad to see that she gets another 2 years to prove her worth.

As for the bad, unfortunately Tammy Duckworth from the IL 06 district was unable to clinch a victory for that seat. I thought she was a pretty cool chick, but that was a tough campaign from the start. But, on the bright side, losing by about 4,000 votes is pretty darn close.

The Senate

Not much to say about that for now. Still waiting on Montana and Virginia.

Illinois Gubernatorial Race

I am only slightly glad to see Blagojevich win a second term.

I voted Green on this one. No, I didn’t throw my vote away OR take it away from Blagojevich. It was never his to begin with- it was and always will be my vote to do with it what I want. Obviously, Topinka was never a question for me- she does not represent my beliefs nor do I feel that she is any less corrupt than any other politician in Illinois. That led me, at first, to decide to vote for Blagojevich. He’s done some great things for the state, including universal health care for all children and extending health care benefits to same-sex domestic partners of state employees. However, he is unbelievably corrupt, and I just didn’t feel good voting for corruption. So, after realizing that *gasp* there is another option, I checked out Rich Whitney and was really happy with what I saw: an environmentalist, a human rights activist (he’s a civil rights attorney), a HUGE supporter of LGBT rights and the only candidate who was an active supporter of same-sex marriage. I was absolutely thrilled to see this third option and quickly became a Whitney supporter.

No, I never expected him to win the election, but winning 11% of the vote is pretty freaking awesome for a third party candidate. This also means that he surpassed the 5% minimum needed to have a permanent ballot line in Illinois elections. I see this as a win for multi-party politics.

The Terribly Depressing

I’m going to try really hard not to just go off on America right now. It will take a lot of self-restraint. At this point, 7 of the 8 states with gay marriage bans on their ballots decided that it was a fantastic idea to write discrimination into their constitutions. Thank you Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota (more on you later- we may still be friends), South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and *sigh* Wisconsin for pushing this country even further into the depths of human rights violations. Wisconsin has truly hurt me the most as I thought that there was a very good chance that enough people outside of Dane County (a pretty obvious win) would vote against this terrible ban. I spent some time canvassing in Madison with Fair Wisconsin last weekend and was mistakenly emboldened by the positive support against the ban that was found there. Unfortunately, a state can’t be judged solely by its liberal college town.. The thing that really grills me, though, is that 26% of those who voted in favor of the ban consider themselves liberal. 26%?!?!?!?! I’m sorry, but if you are a supporter of writing discrimination into your state’s constitution, you are not a liberal. I understand that some liberals may have moral objections to same-sex marriage, but there is a difference between moral objections and declaring it illegal.

However, there is one small shining light of hope coming from Arizona. It’s not positive, but with 99% of the vote in, it looks like Arizona could become the first state to successfully defeat a gay marriage ban. You know, all states can’t be as rock star as Illinois, which wouldn’t even stand for the idea of a same-sex marriage ban being put on the ballot.

The Surprisingly Delightful

I can’t even begin to say how surprised and thrilled I am to see that South Dakota rejected the abortion ban on their ballot. I was almost convinced that it would have been passed, but South Dakota has pleasantly surprised me. Way to go!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that a woman’s right to choose is protected. One day after elections, the Supreme Court will hear two different cases regarding “partial-birth” abortions. With the current makeup of the Supreme Court (4 conservative, 4 “liberal” and 1 moderate conservative swing), I’m a little nervous.

OK, folks, that wraps up this morning’s Day-After Election Day thoughts. More will come as we all scramble to get the latest news, by either frantically refreshing the CNN homepage or gluing ourselves to the TV. More to come soon!

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