Tuesday, December 25, 2007

6 ideas for kids with disposable income

I went to a prep school that, let's just say, qualifies me for entrance to facebook groups like "I went to Private School, Strumpet!" (which is a witty response to groups that I'm unqualified to join, like "I went to Public School, Bitch.")

And having afterwards gone to pretty-expensive and pretty-prestigious Harvey Mudd, many of my friends from both high school and college are now in control of significant amounts of cash. (Though I have to note that a significant fraction of my friends from college made conscious choices not to go into money-making industries, and are now teachers, activists, or grad school students).

Lately I've been struck by a lot of ways I would give away money if I had a ton to give away. In the Christmas spirit, I thought I would give them to everyone reading this. Anyway, most of these suggestions are dollar-value-flexible: you could target these organizations with $1 as easily as you could with $10,000.

1. Your local YMCA. They need new weight machines, I just bet. And they need funding so that more kids can learn to swim and so that more adults can get fit in a non-corporate, non-body-image-obsessed atmosphere.

2. Your local Head Start program. Head start has suffered under flat funding for the last couple years, and out and out funding cuts under the Bush Administration. Head Start gives early childhood education as well as medical, dental, and mental health benefits to kids younger than 5. They teach parents how to prepare affordable and healthy meals. And to qualify, you have to be below the federal poverty line. Basically, Head Start is the longest running effort to fight poverty in America.

It was just reauthorized this December, and the Bill requires all Head Start teachers to have Bachelor's degrees by 2013. As you can imagine, more-educated staff are going to cost more money, and the bill did not provide an increase in funds.

3. The rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

4. Good old UNICEF. I'm skeptical of most money flows from rich nations to poor (i.e. I think that in many cases first-world "charity" is either an analgesic for first world guilt or else a way for capitalists to sell more goods or own more infrastructure), but this organization has a long history and broad international support, and a commitment to solving immediate crises.

5. Politician of your choice in local political campaign. This represents an opportunity to educate yourself about the less-publicized elections that affect matters right under your nose. And if you are anything like most Americans, you are very uneducated about the issues in your local election. I recommend that even if you are broke, you set aside $10 bucks and figure out who deserves it the most.

5. Public radio. Also always broke, and provides clear public benefit to all. I was unable to get good information on the secession of the Lakota Sioux from anywhere except KPFK and KPCC. (Type "Lakota" into Google News and you'll get short articles from Le Monde and BBC, and almost nothing from a major American source. The fact that a large and historically important group of Americans can SECEDE and barely raise an eyebrow shows how much news media serves the interests of the State, again confirming Noam Chomsky's thesis in Manufacturing Consent.) Other alternative media sources like The Nation, Mother Jones, and Democracy Now are also always broke. And so necessary.

6. (In order of increasing expense): Drought-tolerant shrub; Light bulb retrofit; astroturf; sweet bicycle; train ticket; windmill. Also, if you have the option to pay your utilities company a premium in order to obtain all of your energy from renewable sources, put that on your 2008 plan.

Happy Holidays!

Here's links for expedient online donating once you've made your choice:

1. http://www.ymca.net/find_your_ymca/
2. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/hsb/hsweb/index.jsp
3. http://www.unitedwaynola.org/about/index.htm
4. you go girl
5. http://www.npr.org/
6. you know

David Barsamian, founder of Alternative Radio and regular contributor to Z Magazine, once explained that when he speaks to American audiences about Imperialism or corporate media consolidation or labor movements or any of his other specialties, they always ask him, "So what can we do?" They want to know how they can make a difference; it is a reasonable question. But, he notes, when he speaks abroad to incredibly poor and voiceless audiences, no one asks him that question. Zapatistas in Mexico, hydroelectric dam protesters in Gujarat, anti-sweatshop activists in the Philippines, they don't need direction or advice. Out of necessity and often with their very survival at stake, they're already acting on their own behalf. Only the world's privileged are at a loss for what to do; only they have that luxury. So, he answers: I cannot tell you what to do. You must ask yourself that question and find an activism that feels authentic to you. There is nothing wrong, he points out, with donating money to a good cause. Some will want to do more. Still, taking a moment to make a conscious donation can be an authentic, positive act.

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