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Population control as civic virtue: The League of Women Voters Population Coalition

The League of Women Voters Population Coalition ( claims to be a ‘“nationwide grassroots” organization of members composed of 280 local League chapters, 25 state Leagues, and 207 individuals. These last include Dr. Nafis Sadik, head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), along with the heads of other international population control organizations. Although LWVPC lists private donations and membership dues as sources of income, foundation funding probably makes up the bulk of the organizations budget. The suggested membership fee is modest and the Coalition does not appear to levy any funds from the state or local league members. Foundations making grants to LWVPC include The Pew Charitable Trusts/ Pew Global Stewardship Initiative, the Wilburforce Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, and Turner Foundation.

The LWVPC website itself is nondescript, just one of many sub-sites provided by the population control group Zero Population Growth. A header leads up a few paragraphs of introductory text, placed against the standard, gun-metal gray background. Nothing eye-catching here. Most of the site is devoted to a platform for the coalition’s newsletter, in whose pages the visitor discovers just how biased LVWPC can be, both in the things it says and the things it chooses not to discuss.

Human rights abuses ignored

Like other population control advocacy organizations, the LWVPC doesn’t find the human rights violations which characterize its movement worthy of any attention at all. You would think that an organization which lists “social justice” as one of the most important challenges facing humankind would find space in its newsletter to mention that the plague of population control has brought infanticide, forced abortion, forced sterilization and child abandonment to the People’s Republic of China and other developing nations. But the Coalition, like similar organizations, is afflicted with a curious blind spot when it comes to population issues. “Social justice,” apparently, does not apply to people whom we have decided are supernumerary. Similarly, despite its commitment to seeking the “empowerment of women,” LWVPC seems unconcerned by the mounting evidence that population control programs actually disempower women. Also ignored are the racist and xenophobic roots which characterize the developed world’s population control efforts in the developing world. Surely the League’s claim to “impartiality” and to “seeking the full story” would demand at least some mention of the infamous National Security Study Memorandum 200, which argued that population control was in the U.S. national interest because it would guarantee easy access to the developing world’s natural resources. How ironic it is that Ann Dorr, writing from the League in Montgomery County, Maryland, could state “there is no understanding of the relationship between minerals and population growth and distribution,” when there is ample evidence that the developed world is well aware of this relationship and has often taken brutal steps to ensure its stability of supply.

Dehumanizing language

But while the Coalition surprises, even deceives, with its omissions, far more important and damaging are the things it chooses to say. Language can be used to strip the humanity from various groups which society has decided to dislike or eliminate, as Dr. William Brennan, Professor of Sociology at St. Louis University, has spent many years meticulously documenting. This linguistic dehumanization almost always takes place before the actual persecution begins and usually continues throughout. The point, as Brennan points out, is to strip the humanity from the targeted population in the public mind and thus render them more vulnerable to whatever fate our current ideology dictates. Thus Jews were called “the disease of Europe,” the Iroquois “more deadly than the pestilence,” and free blacks “a contagion.” Each of these groups, of course, was singled out for oppression and eventual destruction.

Disturbingly, there are several instances where the Coalition presents human beings in a similarly pejorative way. Ray Wolfe, of the Lane County, Oregon chapter, borrowed this image from a physicist at the University of Colorado in Boulder:

…Bartlett showed his audience a strain of bacteria which could double its population every minute, completely filling its bottle in one hour. If the doubling began at 11a.m., at 11:59 one could say that half the bottle was still empty — plenty of space for everyone. But at noon, [one] minute later, the bottle was full — out of space.

“With a doubling time” Wolfe adds, “of less than 20 years for urban populations, it’s later than the inhabitants of this particular bottle realize.”

Denis Hays, Earth Day founder, offers an elaborate argument that human populations are analogous to deer populations in their behavior and, like deer, cannot be counted upon to reason their way out of situations where resources seem to be shrinking. Hays, however, does deign to mention that there are opponents to population control — although he does his best to caricature their arguments:

…Population growth is attractive to religious seeking to bring a larger number of souls to God’s greater glory. Population growth is attractive to patriots who fear we are not producing enough cannon fodder to re-fight World War II. Population growth is favored by certain economic theorists who believe that more labor and consumers will yield a healthier economy.

Now this, surely, is as inaccurate a description of the pro-growth perspective as you will hear anywhere.

Errors multiplied

None of the sweeping statements Coalition authors make are footnoted, not surprisingly given that so many are out-and-out wrong. Hay’s assertions that “[f]ood and fiber production have leveled out everywhere over the last five years” and “virtually all the best land is in production,” are absolutely untrue. The actual situation, according to the World Fact Book, a publication of the U.S. Government, is quite different:

[t]he [worldwide] production of major food crops has increased substantially in the last 20 years; the annual production of cereals, for instance, has risen by 50%, from about 1.2 billion metric tons to about 1.8 billion metric tons; production increases have resulted mainly from increased yields rather than increases in planted areas .…

For 30 years the League of Women Voters has enjoyed a reputation for “fairness” and “impartiality” almost unrivaled in the American political landscape. When asked about the League, most Americans would cite their work in organizing political debates and other voter—education events. Their sponsorship of those events is allowed because it is believed that the League of Women Voters is fundamentally nonpartisan or, at a minimum, that it will not take blatantly partisan positions on the pressing issues of the day. To remain vigorous, democracies need to have organizations which conscientiously present both sides of controversial public issues. The League of Women Voters was once such an organization. May it be so again one day.

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