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The Planet
When Less is Better

By Jenny Coyle

To greet the new century, the Global Population and Environment Program took a chance on a brand new outreach tool - and relished the sweet taste of success when it made a big splash.

Population activists

Rallying in the Rain: New Jersey population activist Bonnie Tillery, center, is joined by husbank Joe Leist and their friend Genevieve Rangelli at an April choice rally in Trenton.

The program produced a postcard book featuring striking photographs and profiles of women and their family life in various countries. Called "Women's Health, Earth's Health," it contains 10 blank postcards, including four addressed to decision-makers and one to the Sierra Club.

The Sacramento Bee in California ran a Mother's Day story about the book with a headline that said, "Love Mom and the Earth," and encouraged mothers to give it daughters - and vice versa. College professors ordered the book for their women's studies classes, too. One Alabama activist wrote the population program saying, "The pictures, stories and quotes made global family-planning issues real to me, and the postcards gave me something to do about it."

Laurie Mignone

That was just one of the wise moves the program made in 2000. Laurie Mignone, the first conservation organizer for the program, was hired in March. "And it's been non-stop action since I started," she said.

She worked with Carol Schlitt, population program director, and other leaders to found Partners for Family Planning, which sponsored education and outreach events in Philadelphia, Dallas and West Palm Beach.

Laurie Mignone, photo by Kim Todd

One of the year's victories was keeping the "global gag rule" out of the foreign operations spending bill for fiscal year 2001. The rule, in place in 2000, prohibited U.S. international family-planning aid to go to overseas groups that used their own private funds to perform abortions or advocate on the issue.

"No U.S. dollars have gone to provide abortions in other countries since 1973," said Mignone. "This money shouldn't be held back from groups that provide support for women."

Also, the population program helped international family planning funding to increase from $372 million in 2000 to $425 million in 2001. The glitch is that Congress agreed no funds would be distributed until Feb. 15.

"That means the new president could impose the gag rule by executive order, a move made by both Ronald Reagan and George Bush when they were in office," said Mignone. "Sierra Club population campaign activists will be watching this closely."

Among those watching will be Anita King, population committee chair for the Pioneer Valley Group in Massachusetts, whose population and consumption workshops for teachers and students are gaining popularity at local college campuses.

At one workshop, twice as many high school students signed up as in the previous two years. "Toward the end I said that those who wanted more information should come me, and 11 of the 20 surrounded me after the session," said King.

Also keeping tabs on population issues is Bonnie Tillery, population program coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter. She worked with her chapter executive committee to raise the profile of candidates' family-planning positions into the endorsement process in the last election.

"My main message," Tillery said, "is that women around the world who are empowered - with education, financial resources, birth control - tend to have fewer children, which in turn is easier on them and the environment. Reigning in population growth is central to the work we do."

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