We've followed the ups and downs of 70-year-old feminist/population-control activist/gadfly Joyce Tarnow for about as long as this paper has been in print. Tarnow first caught our attention when she ran an abortion clinic in Fort Lauderdale: We reported she occasionally wore a flak jacket to work and had managed to get a permanent legal injunction against Operation Rescue. The clinic closed in 2004, but that didn't stop Tarnow from tilting at windbags; she was an interminably irritating presence at Pompano Beach City Commission meetings; she led a petition to recall then-Mayor Bill Griffin and Vice Mayor Herb Skolnik when they fell headfirst into the pockets of rapacious developers. She stopped the McNab road-widening project in its tracks with a coalition of concerned residents. Spurred by a New Times article by Bob Norman, she pushed for a criminal investigation of Pompano's corrupt water department. In 2007, she got arrested in front of a Publix for collecting petition signatures for Florida Hometown Democracy.
And then suddenly, we didn't hear a peep about Tarnow. She didn't show up in police reports. She wasn't quoted in City Commission meetings. Where the heck was she?
Tarnow has "retired" to Dixie County in North Florida, where she has "remodeled an old cottage."
"I do a lot of bird watching," she says. "I have an interest in kayaking, I'm rescuing my yard for native trees and planting wildflowers. I'm in good health -- I owe that to genetics and prudent living. Not that I'm a teetotaler. I enjoy a beer or a glass of wine."
Tarnow's idea of retirement may be a little different from most. She runs the Floridians for a Sustainable Population website, and she's still active in Florida Hometown Democracy, or Amendment 4 (on the ballot in 2010), with Palm Beach activist and lawyer Lesley Blackner. The two campaigns have a common goal: to limit growth in Florida and thereby preserve wetlands, conserve water, sustain the environment, and keep marine life healthy. FLSP focuses on curbing population through immigration control. Hometown Democracy wants to limit development by making land-use changes subject to public referendum.
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Raised in a progressive family in Chicago (her father was a member of the American Bakers' and Confectioners Union), a longtime member of NOW, and an abortion-rights and environmental activist, Tarnow may seem like a strange bedfellow for anti-immigration groups. "To say this is a far-right issue I don't think is accurate," she says. "Take the health-care problems with illegals: Emergency rooms are taking in uninsured immigrants at great cost to our system. What it's costing Florida in 2008 is $3.8 billion for the education, medical care, and incarceration of illegal aliens. That's twice what we spent in 2005. That money alone would wipe out Florida's entire budget deficit for 2009."
Tarnow became interested in population issues at a 1970 Earth Day celebration. "I saw a table set up by the engineering department that showed the population bomb. There was this beautiful baby picture and a display of the number of U.S. births indicated by a strobe light flashing -- it was a real attention grabber. I'd been living in Florida since 1962, and I was impressed by the marine life here, the trees and foliage, and it seemed people didn't realize the potential impact of rapid population growth. We had also abandoned any thought of having immigration serve the needs of the American people. We're heading for a population of 450 million in the United States by 2050.
"We need a steady state economy, one where we're sustaining ourselves. Our economy could depend on recreational services, on counseling services, rather than building and development. We can't just continue producing more food, more fuel, more water, to sustain a growing population indefinitely. It's eventually going to create a downward spiral and take our quality of life with it.
"I don't want to stop immigration," Tarnow says thoughtfully. "But we need to set more-responsible policies. You do what you can to move your world in a better direction."