Happy V-Day!!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today marks the 10th anniversary of V-day, the organization that grew out of Eve Ensler’s award-winning play The Vagina Monologues. V-day works to end violence against women and girls worldwide. The organization has gained a huge following and Eve Ensler has traveled all over the world to bring attention to issues of violence against women.

I was first introduced to The Vagina Monologues when I was a junior in High School. My English teacher organized a show for the community and many of the teachers from my high school participated. The months leading up to the event she wore a small, red, “V” pin every day. One day one of my classmates asked her what the “V” stood for. She leaned in and whispered to him “Vagina” and casually walked away. I remember seeing the look of shock on his face that a teacher would say something like that. It made me feel empowered. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be involved with the production in the future.

Throughout college I acted, directed and organized the annual production of The Vagina Monologues and brought attention to issues of violence within the community. It was one of the things that I could do that I knew was making a difference and touching so many people.

Now, here I am in Washington, DC working on this issue from a legislative standpoint and meeting amazing women and people along the way who feel just as passionately as I do about ending violence against women and girls.

Yesterday, I attended a briefing at the Capital titled “How faith-based communities can work together to advance domestic violence laws.” The event was sponsored by the Interfaith Domestic Violence Coalition of which the UUA is a part. The weather was awful, but we still had a great turnout and support from Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) who spoke of their dedication to ending violence against women. Currently, the coalition is dedicating much of its time to advancing the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) which will provide funding to foreign assistance programs specifically for stopping violence against women worldwide. Tell your Senator that you support the I-VAWA act, we need every voice to speak out in this struggle.

Together we are going to make a difference and make a positive impact on the lives of women and girls worldwide.

Remember, support women and girls and attend a V-day event in your area!

Working the Gears of Democracy

If you live in a state that has already participated in the Primary Election season, and your state holds primaries (as opposed to caucuses), what you may have witnessed is something like this: long lines of agitated voters, older poll workers who move slowly, and possibly difficulties casting your ballot.

I should know, I was there. Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia hosted their regional primary yesterday—the so called “Potomac Primary” or the “Chesapeake Primary”, or even the “Crab Cake Primary.” I was there, working the polls.

Working the gears of Democracy was hard. But it was worth it. I would not have traded the experience for anything. Working for democracy was absolutely amazing. I met neighbors. I learned things about their families, friends and faith communities. I met young and old alike. I met people from black, white, Latino and Asian communities. Experienced voters and first-timers, born citizens, new residents and recent immigrants, they all came together to vote-as Americans. It was beautiful.

While I was working the polls, I had the whole day to think of ways to make the voting process smoother. These include, but are not limited to:

Making Election Day a national holiday
Implementing same day voter registration
Opening up the closed primary system

But what would have really made the day go smoother and easier would not require policy change at all. Instead, it would require a one day sacrifice of over 500,000 extra people.

I say 500,000 because an Associated Press article from 2004 reported that The United States lacked a total of 500,000 poll workers. A half a million poll workers who could help people cast their ballots in a safe and accurate matter.

In a world of hanging chads, and miscount ballots, and people turned away from the door, it’s easy to posit vast government conspiracies between Diebold, the Supreme Court and Karl Rove. But, think of a world in which there were enough passionate, engaged, and competent people to fully staff all the polls in America and just how differently our elections would look. Imagine every voter knowing to check their chads. Imagine enough people to accurately count ballots. And imagine enough workers to inform all voters their rights.

This is not to demean my fellow poll workers. But let’s face it, we were outnumbered. There were just 5 of us, working a total of 8 positions. There were many more people voting than we expected–more than 700 people in a six block radius came to vote. For thirteen hours, I worked on my feet, often forgoing meals to help people cast their ballot. We had retired women working the entire day as quickly and accurately as they could—even when people a third their age were yelling at them. These hard working poll workers made this whole thing work.

That is why I am urging you to sacrifice one day of your time to volunteer at the polls for your next elections. It gives you an opportunity to work for democracy, help your neighbors and be part of history. Please call your local board of elections to find out how you could work the polls for your next election. I’ll be there!

Happy Darwin Day

Most people know today as Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. What you might not know is that the man who saved the Union shares his birthday (to the year) with the man who proposed natural selection as the driving force for evolution. February 12th is “Darwin Day,” promoted by some as an “international celebration of science and humanity,” mainly in reaction against those that favor creationism/intelligent design.

As a former biologist, there is no doubt in my mind that the diversity of life on earth today came about by evolution. The common genetic origins that we share with all living organisms is seen not just in evolutionary theory but also genetics, developmental biology, molecular and cellular biology… In short, all of biology points to this unifying explanation. Even so, I would not normally be holding up Charles Darwin’s birthday as something particularly important to note. So why am I doing it now?

Yesterday, February 11th, the Florida Department of Education held its final public hearing on new state-wide science standards that would supercede any policies at the local levels. The proposed standards, which have been favorably received by teachers and scientists, would make the teaching of evolution a required part of Florida’s science education for the first time. This little fact drew people from all over the state to testify both in favor and against the proposed state standards. The controversy was so great that it eclipsed discussion on any other aspect of the proposed standards.

While I appreciate their sincerity, the arguments presented against the teaching of evolution show a fundamental lack of understanding of science and highlight the desperate need for improved science education. People argued that the word “theory” means it’s unproven, ignoring the fact that science doesn’t use the term that way. Few people go around disputing the theory of gravity, for example.

Nor do proponents of teaching intelligent design in science classrooms understand that while “God did it” is a valid theory, it is not a valid scientific theory. The assumption seems to be that “science teaches the truth and since I believe that creationism is true, science should teach it.” In reality, science describes the natural world and thus has no room for supernatural explanations. Science is not saying that there is no God; it makes no statement about God whatsoever.

One seemingly open-minded suggestion was that kids should be exposed to “all theories of creation,” and then free to decide which one they like best. That is great on a personal level. Every one of us is free to decide what we will and will not believe. However, we are not free to decide what is science and what is not science. Science is determined by an objective set of standards, not by subjective feeling nor popular vote.

Most shocking of all in this debate was the revelation that twelve county school districts in Florida have passed resolutions against the teaching of evolution in schools. Yes, twelve. First, I had no idea, after the Scopes (Monkey) Trial, that it was still possible to ban the teaching of evolution in schools. (What exactly does this mean? – will teachers be arrested or fired for teaching science?) Second, I would have thought that something like this would have received more attention than it has. A school board here and there is a blip; twelve school boards in one state is a movement. Yet so far, I’ve only been able to find scant mention of it in local Florida newspapers.

The Florida State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the new science standards on Feb 19th. On this Darwin Day, let us pray that it votes to uphold education for future generations.

Rep. Lantos: Leaving Us with Hope

Shortly after arriving at work today I received an email from a colleague informing me that Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo, San Francisco), 80, passed away this morning due to complications from cancer.

Rep. Lantos was an inspiration. As a Hungarian Jew, Rep. Lantos was the only survivor of the Holocaust to serve in Congress. During his 30 years of service, he co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus through which he defended the rights of minorities around the world. I find it particularly moving that two years ago, at 78 years old, Rep. Lantos was arrested on the steps of the Sudanese embassy protesting the genocide in Darfur.

His belief in civil rights led him to be a strong advocate domestically for women’s right to choose and for gays and lesbians to have the right to marry. He was also widely recognized as a friend of the environment.

One of the last contributions to come out of Rep. Lantos’ office was draft legislation reauthorizing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). As chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, his office developed this crucial legislation, due to be marked up this Thursday.

Within the community of global HIV/AIDS advocates, researchers, and program staff, the last few weeks have seen a flurry of emails about the nuances of the bill and its political future. Within those emails, our community affectionately dubbed the legislation as the “Lantos bill.”

The “Lantos bill” honors humanity. As a parting gift to our community, and our world, this bill would position the United States to provide the most effective and inspired leadership in the history of the struggle against HIV/AIDS. In addition to allocating $50 billion over five years, it breaks down barriers to providing women and youth with comprehensive information about HIV prevention; information that could save their lives. Additionally, the “Lantos bill” dares to care about the populations most at risk of contracting HIV, such as sex workers and people struggling with drug addiction.

For me, it is a great privilege to be advocating for one of the last pieces of legislation that this man crafted. I invite you to join me in convincing this Congress that the best way to honor Rep. Lantos’ death is by passing the “Lantos bill” just as he wrote it.

Today was a sad day on Capitol Hill. Thankfully, Rep. Lantos left us a path to a better future.

Native American Activists and Allies Embark on the Longest Walk for Healing and Justice

Today over three hundred walkers are departing from San Francisco on a five month journey across eleven states to bring awareness to environmental and justice issues. Along the way, a rotating team of walkers will pick up trash, leaving 4,400 miles of road trash-free in their wake.

Iroquois tradition mandates that communities consider the impact of their decisions down to the seventh generation to come after them. The Longest Walk 2 is “a peaceful, spiritual effort to engage with the public about restoring harmony with the environment,” according to their website. The Longest Walk 2 is also setting out to call attention to how environmental degradation is hurting not only today’s communities, but also those of the future.

The walk is kicking off with a ceremony on Alcatraz Island, the site of Native American activists’ 18-month occupation from 1969 to 1971, which sparked modern Native American activism and resulted in the federal government shifting from a policy of termination to a policy of Indian self-determination.

Walkers will divide between two routes. The Northern Route will follow the route taken by walkers during the original Longest Walk in 1978, which helped defeat eleven bills that threatened Native American sovereignty. The Southern Route will trace the route of the Sacred Run of 2006, which added hurricane recovery to the justice agenda and passed through the Gulf Coast to be in solidarity with those rebuilding after the storm.

The Northern and Southern routes will meet in DC on July 11. You can follow the walkers’ progress by reading walkers’ blogs about their experiences in Voices From the Walk. Show your support by taking a look at the The Longest Walk 2’s wishlist of camping gear and first aid supplies, or sponsor a walker through Paypal. For more information, check out The Longest Walk 2’s website.

“We shall walk for the Seventh Generation, for our youth, for peace, for justice, for healing of Mother Earth, for the healing of our people suffering from diabetes, heart conditions, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other diseases.

Through the elements of the seasons, we shall walk through the rain, snow, over mountains, high winds, through the heat and cold, nothing shall deter us from completing our mission<. . .
Let those who doubt, hear our pledge. Let those who believe, join our ranks. As we walk the final miles, by our side will be elders, families, children, people of all races, from many walks of life, the old and the new America. All Life is Sacred, Clean Up Mother Earth.

–from The Longest Walk 2’s Mission Statement


The Budget is a Moral Document

President Bush released his budget request last Monday. In addition to being the first budget in U.S. history to top three trillion dollars with a projected deficit of 409 billion, there were some other items of note. Members of the Washington Office comment on some of the issues.

Global Climate Change (Kat):
One of the most striking contrasts about Bush’s budget is that it requests less money for environmental measures and more for nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

Despite the fact that Congress last year refused funding for the “Reliable Replacement Warhead” (RRW) program and a nuclear bomb plant, Bush requested funding for both. The budget requests $10 million for the RRW and $100 million to begin construction on a facility that will make plutonium pits, the core of atomic weapons.

To reduce our dependence on oil, Bush is going nuclear, requesting a 79% increase in funding for the Nuclear Power 2010 program – $106.6 million more than the current year. He’s also requesting a 27% increase in funding for the DOE’s used nuclear fuel management program.

In contrast, Bush cut the budget of the EPA once again, this time by $330 million making a total of $7.14 billion in cuts; his budget eliminates funding for a new national registry to track global warming pollution and cripples environmental clean up of polluted water ways.

Other environmental cuts include $410 million budget taken from the Department of the Interior, $104 million taken from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (which acquires lands for parks and wildlife refuges), $800 million taken from the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program, and 183 million taken from the Bureau of Reclamation.

Sexuality Education (Grace):
President Bush has once again asked for an increase for federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The president asked for $204 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage funds; $141 million for Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE), $50 million for Title V abstinence-only funding, and $13 million for the Adolescent Family Life Act. His request increased CBAE funding by $27.7 million from Fiscal Year 2008. These programs have been proven to be ineffective in decreasing sexual activity among teens and do not help to reduce the amount of unprotected sex.

Apparently, the President feels that it is more important to promote his religious views about sex than to take the advice of numerous studies and 16 governors and fund comprehensive sexuality education programs which would decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies and STI’s. Last year President Bush also requested increases for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs which the House approved but the Senate cut back to be equal to the previous year. Let’s hope that this year the House and Senate step up and deny all funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

Economic Justice (Lisa):
Bush proposes to significantly reduce or eliminate 151 programs. The Urban Indian Health Program, which provides healthcare for 100,000 Native Americans, would be one of the programs eliminated. You can send an email from the National Council of Urban Indian Health’s webpage to oppose the elimination of this important program. The budget would also severely cut programs such as Indian Health Professions, which provides scholarships and loans to students. Overall, the proposed budget puts a stop to recent growth in funding for Native American programs.

On the other hand, Bush has selected border security as one of the few domestic areas to receive increased funding in 2009. He has proposed a budget increase for immigration and border security enforcement of nineteen percent. Additions to border security are to include 2,200 new border patrol agents and 1,000 new detention beds for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally. $775 million dollars will go to fencing and border-enforcing technology along the U.S.-Mexico border. By now we know that fences and detention beds do next to nothing to fix our broken immigration system. They serve only to spread fear and distract citizens and lawmakers from real solutions, like a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented who are already living within the United States.

And finally, the President has proposed cutting 77% of the funding for the World Trade Center Medical Screening and treatment program—the program that provides healthcare for the workers and volunteers who responded to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Bush wants to cut the program from $108 million to $25 million. These workers put their lives on the line to help fellow citizens and their country. Many of them are now sick as a result of inhaling toxic dust at Ground Zero, and now the government is pulling funding from their treatment, which—as you’ll know if you’ve seen the story of one Ground Zero worker’s abysmal medical care in Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko—was flawed to begin with.

If you can bear to read more about how Bush’s proposed budget for 2009 will hurt American workers and the economy, check out ALF-CIO President John Sweeney’s take on Bush’s proposed budget for 2009.

Peacemaking (Alex):
President Bush asked Congress to give the Dep of Defense a whopping $515 Billion plus an extra $70 Billion just for Iraq and Afghanistan for a grand total of $585 Billion. For those of you playing at home, that means a full 24% of our nation’s spending will go to the military.

While 24% does not seem like a whole lot of money, keep in mind this is the largest military budget the United States held since World War II. It is also 5% of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For every $100 spent in the United States, $5 goes towards developing and executing war.

Traditionally, the United States has dedicated only 4% of its GDP to the pursuit of war. This increase of 1% is unheard of.

Allies of the United States will traditionally spend half that on their military. And other large nations, such as Germany, spend only 1.5% of their GDP on military exercises.

One thing is for certain, American hegemony is super expensive.

Rick Warren, PEPFAR, and Me

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has scheduled a markup hearing on February 14th at 9:30 am for Chairman Lantos’ bill reauthorizing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Members of the committee, who are content with the current policies – including the requirement that 1/3rd of our HIV prevention funding to be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs – hosted a press conference yesterday on the steps of the Cannon House Office Building. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and minister of Saddleback Church in Southern California, flew into DC and spoke at the press conference.

Pastor Warren has been one of the few evangelicals to actively work to end the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. With HIV/AIDS being stigmatized for so long, Pastor Warren’s leadership on this issue has been crucial to opening up the minds and hearts of so many Americans to the suffering this pandemic causes. For three years he has held a Global Summit on AIDS at his church. In 2007 he invited six leading presidential candidates to participate, and Senator Clinton accepted.

Because HIV/AIDS and sexuality can not be separated, Sen. Clinton’s participation resulted in a lot of criticism from pro-life activists who are highly critical of her pro-choice and pro-comprehensive prevention beliefs. Pastor Warren responded by saying, “When millions are dying each year, we’re interested in lives, not labels. We want everyone to become concerned about the AIDS pandemic.”

At yesterday’s press conference, Pastor Warren praised Congress and the current administration for the last five years of unprecedented commitment to ending the spread of HIV/AIDS. He called out for an even broader commitment in the reauthorization of PEPFAR. His message was in the middle of the aisle.

His remarks were preceded and followed by Republicans on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who claimed that Chairman Lantos’ draft PEPFAR reauthorization bill had been “hijacked by the radical abortion lobby.” [listen to their remarks here]

While I was not officially invited to join the press conference, I made my way down to the Hill and sauntered up behind Representative Pitts (who originally inserted the abstinence earmark into PEPFAR), Pastor Warren and others as they shared their views on how to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS. As I stood behind those prominent speakers holding a sign that read, “Prevention based on evidence, not ideology,” I was struck by how often they accused our movement to remove the abstinence-until-marriage earmark of being fueled by our own ideology.

To back up our ideology, we have reports from the Government Accountability Office and the Institute of Medicine showing that abstinence-until-marriage programs do not change behavior and do not stop the spread of HIV.

To back up their ideology they have the truthiness that if you tell somebody not to have sex and they do not have sex they probably will not contract HIV.

Along with hundreds of committed activists, I have worked for years to remove the abstinence earmark and open the doors to prevention programs that provide women and youth with accurate information that could save their lives. I am hopeful that Congress will soon reauthorize PEPFAR and remove the earmark and I plan on standing strong (with signs in hand) until this comes to be.

Feeling compelled to find our common ground, I walked up to Pastor Warren after the press conference, still holding my sign, and thanked him for his work to end HIV/AIDS. He smiled and gave me a hug.

With Pastor Warren standing next to Rep. Pitts yesterday and Sen. Clinton two months ago, I suspect that we share one of my deepest convictions: In my journey towards justice, I am convinced that it does not matter which person of power I am standing next to, as long as I am always standing with those millions who are dying each year.

Super Tuesdays and Religious Tests

As I read Super Tuesday coverage this morning, I was struck by a short piece in The Washington Post (“Dirty Tricks, Version 2.0: E-Mail Sent to Friends“) that examines the relatively new practice of sending misleading, smear-based emails shortly before a vote. Sadly—but not surprisingly—many of these attacks have strongly religious themes. I decided to use this as an opportunity for Constitutional reflection.

Article VI of our US Constitution is an interesting one. The first two (of three total) clauses establish the authority of the new federal government and Constitution as “the supreme Law of the Land.” The third clause, though it seems to address a different issue entirely, contains three very important words:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

No religious test. According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, although the “no religious test” clause was “a dramatic departure from prevailing state governmental restrictions,” [it] was adopted with relatively little debate” (link to blog) at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. I’ve read through various legal and historical analysis of the clause, and one thing stands out: while it proscribes formal religious tests, as might be applied by a government body such as a legislature or court, there’s no legal or practical way to make it binding on individual voters. And so I ask: even without legal authority, should not applying a religious test be a widely-accepted social norm among voters? If so, what are we doing to make it so?

I’d like to suggest that we start with personal reflection. Consider: If I were running for office, how would I explain how my religious values relate to my political and policy views? How might a religious fundamentalist answer this question differently, and what’s the significance of those differences to me? Does it matter, for example, if a candidate cites a religious text as a source? Why or why not?

I will wrestle with these questions myself in the coming weeks. As we develop answers, I think we’ll have a better sense of both what it’s like to be a candidate and how we can talk to family, friends, and colleagues about the role of religion—and religious tests—in elections.

In faith,

Rob Keithan

PS: In February the Unitarian Universalist Association will release updated election-year resources, including information on relevant IRS guidelines and how to mobilize your congregation to register, educate, and get out the vote.

Happy Mardi Gras and Super Tuesday! Let’s Make Some Noise About Gulf Coast Recovery

This year, Mardi Gras coincides with “Super Tuesday,” the day when the greatest number of states hold primary elections. This chance concurrence is a good opportunity to reflect on how the discussion about Gulf Coast rebuilding has unfolded in the presidental race so far–oh wait, that’s right: it hasn’t. Instead, Gulf Coast recovery has been conspicuously absent in campaign discussions and debates, in spite of the enormous need still present in the Gulf. For example, rent costs in the region have jumped 70%, less than 28% of the region’s former 82,000 rental units are on track to be rebuilt, and homelessness is escalating.

Last week several groups, including the Katrina Information Network, worked to bump a question about Gulf Coast rebuilding up in an online vote which determined the questions asked at California’s presidential debates. In spite of pushing the question to the number 1 position for the Democratic debate and number 3 for the Republican event, not a single question about hurricane recovery was asked during the debates. Writers at the Times Picayune speculate that the voted-upon question was omitted because it was too “wonkish”—for those of you living outside DC, that means too policy-related and esoteric. Similarly, in President Bush’s State of the Union address last week, Gulf Coast rebuilding was glossed over with three sentences of rosy words.

We owe it to those in the Gulf to make rebuilding a bigger topic during the remainder of the campaign season. Rather than deploring the Bush administration’s failures in handling the disaster, candidates should be acknowledging Congress’s continued failure to fix the situation, and out-lining the steps that they will take for Gulf Coast recovery during their presidency. Debate moderaters and journalists should be pushing candidates to explain their strategies to rebuild.

Part of what we can do in the election season is educate the candidates about what issues are important to us and what issues we want them to be addressing. It’s up to us to be accountable to Gulf Coast communities and keep hammering away until this issue gets addressed.

If a candidate visits your town, ask him or her a non-wonky question about their plans for how to rebuild the Gulf in a way that serves the needs of renters and low-income families. If you happen to know a journalist–or, better yet, to be a journalist–in the position of interviewing a canidate, ask them to question the candidate about rebuilding. If you take part in an online or telephone survey about what issues matter to you this campaign season, check the box for Gulf Coast recovery–and if there isn’t a box, write it in, or ask the survey-maker why it’s missing. Ask your friends if they’ve noticed the campaigns’ silence around rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

It is up to us to show the candidates that we think Gulf Coast recovery is important; otherwise, it will continue to be a non-issue during the campaigns, lessening the likelihood that positive change will occur during the next administration. So let’s make a commitment to challenge our candidates and those who control the media to make rebuilding part of the conversation! Happy Mardi Gras, all.

UU Activist Valentine’s Day Gift Guide

After the success of our UU Activist Holiday Gift Guide in December, we at the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy decided to do it again for Valentine’s Day. Here are some eco-friendly and social justice gifts that are perfect for loved ones.

Alex: For my gift recommendation, I give you Make Magazine and Craft Magazine. In two of my favorite magazines, people send in their homemade projects. Make Magazine shows people how to create handy machines and gadgets using mostly recycled materials and outdated technology. Craft Magazine has fun arts and crafts projects using reusable, sustainable materials. Plus, check out the cards—they are totally challenging the Gender Binary. And I think that is awesome!

Grace: Being a conscious consumer can often be very expensive. If you have a tight budget, or just want to put that extra touch of love into your gift, check out this Family Fun craft site. There are a ton of ideas for do-it-yourself Valentine’s Day gifts that are great for the entire family. Take some time this year and make handmade cards for your loved ones. No matter your artistic ability a handmade gift always comes from the heart.

Kat: Most of us have more stuff than we know what to do with. Yet we still want to get something for our loved ones to express how much they mean to us. This Valentines day, spread the love with gifts that will make a lasting difference. Make a gift to your favorite charity in your sweetie’s name. (For example, Heifer International.) Because of the ailing economy, charitable donations are down so your gifts mean more than ever.

Flowerbud is a veriflora approved flower company which means “they strive to ensure that all of our flowers are grown in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.” The flowers may be on the pricey side but knowing that you are getting beautiful flowers from a socially responsible company is worth every penny.

EcoExpress makes natural and organic gifts. Their Valentine’s Day spread includes chocolate, candles, wine and cookies. The cookies look especially delicious.

Before you make romantic dinner reservations check out Local Harvest.org to see if there are any restaurants in your area that use locally grown food. You can also find farms, organic grocery stores, and farmers markets in your area.

Give the gift of life. Blood supplies are often dangerously low during the winter months. An hour or two of your time could literally save a life. Find a local blood bank here.