Progressive gift-giving: a guide to buying (mostly) local with social justice in mind


Hard times make merging one’s progressive values with gift-giving to loved ones more important than ever. I aim for gifts that “give (at least) twice”—to the recipient and also to social justice, small businesses and local culture. Buying local keeps profits in our community, instead of exporting them to far-away multinational corporations.

Visual artists, musicians and writers who are self-employed—without unemployment benefits— are hit especially hard right now. Buying CDs or poets’ chapbooks at a performance or on individual artists’ websites strengthens local culture. has a wide selection of local artists’ pages — just click on the artist tab in the middle column at the top of the page. links to local bands and musicians.

On-line sales and chain stores threaten independent bookstores, while local bookstores nourish literary diversity that “big box” entities ignore.

  • True Colors (4755 Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis, 612-821-9630, closed Mondays) is women-owned, features a great selection of multicultural children’s books, feminist and GLBT authors, calendars, DVDs and jewelry.

  • May Day Books is non-profit, volunteer-run (301 Cedar Avenue S., West Bank, Minneapolis, (612) 333-4719, closed Sunday), focuses on progressive politics, including writers of color, the environment and foreign affairs not found anywhere else.

  • For spiritually-minded peacemakers, St. Martin’s Table (2001 Riverside Avenue, West Bank, Minneapolis, (612) 339-3920, closed Sunday, closes at 3 p.m.) offers books and jewelry from a social justice Christian perspective. These bookstores also carry hard-to-find small press books.

  • Two unusual gift ideas are at Open Book (1011 Washington Avenue South, near downtown Minneapolis, (612) 215-2650). Love an aspiring writer? Give a class at the Loft Literary Center, located at Open Book. Minnesota Center for Book Arts, also located at Open Book (closed Mondays), represents 150 local and national artists: creative synthesis of literature and visual art, journals and more-plus (my favorite) book purses!

  • Arise Books (2441 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, (612) 871-7110) has a good selection of political posters. You can also donate books (paperbacks only) to the only U.S. organization supporting incarcerated women’s reading, the Women’s Prison Book Project in the bin outside Arise Books.

Visual art can be pricey, but there are affordable options.

For over two decades, the now-closed Northland Poster Collective featured inspiring posters by Ricardo Levins Morales. Now in a new studio, Levins-Morales creates portraits of progressive s/heroes (like Pablo Neruda, Emma Goldman, Malcolm X), scenes celebrating labor, sustainability and peace, plus his beautiful coffee calendar.

For over 30 years, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater has created unique performances, with delightful posters for the annual Powderhorn Park May Day Parade and their plays. Call 612-721-2535.

Progressive people are movie maniacs, too. Perhaps, the most locally-rooted films are being made by St. Paul filmmaker Mike Hazard’s CIE/Center for International Education. Many are timeless character studies of Minnesotans: “Jim Northrup: No Reservations” about the Native-American playwright making a pilgrimage to the Vietnam War memorial; two political legends: “The Magic Green School Bus” on Senator Paul Wellstone and “I’m Sorry I was Right” about 1968 presidential candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy. “Rated R for Rebellious” honors four sisters who are the Twin Cities beloved “peace nuns.” Literary lions Thomas McGrath and Robert Bly are on film with poetry readings. Native-American films by Red Eye Videos are also available.

For those who “have it all,” here are some ideas.

  • Support non-profit KFAI Community Radio with totebags, t-shirts or mugs.

Last year, I did half my holiday shopping at church bazaars, finding fresh gift ideas ranging from rare books to a crock pot in its original box at almost-free prices. Walker Community Methodist Church has strongly supported peace with justice for over 40 years, providing an affordable venue for events and meetings. Their holiday sale (with local art and crafts, books and more) is December 5, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and December 6, noon-4 p.m. (3104 16th Avenue South, Minneapolis)

Being an ecologically-minded shopper is easier than ever, if you know where to go. Local co-ops are a good source of locally-grown ingredients to make gifts from your kitchen, vegetarian cook books, and fair trade international crafts. Find Twin Cities co-ops at The Mix.

Non-profits have lost foundation support in the Wall Street economic mess and some have suffered from state budget cuts, so, don’t forget to gift good causes, especially those addressing poverty. Holiday sales, fundraising cultural events and products like T-shirts are all ways to support social justice while giving gifts to friends and family. National organizations, from Amnesty International to Greenpeace and women’s rights groups, often have calendars and products for sale, so check out websites for “double-giving.” Finally, my favorite international organization is Heifer International, helping 30 million families in 124 countries gain economic independence: you can buy a flock of chicks or geese for $20, honey bees for $30 or “shares” in a water buffalo, sheep or other animals, seeds or trees. Heifer International’s catalog is a sure-fire smile and hope generator.