John Rensenbrink’s Speech for Maine’s 30th Anniversary, May 3, 2014
We live in the dwindling days of a once proud republic. The government we once felt was ours, or might be ours, or might at least be accountable to the people, has fled from us.
We live in the era of purchased government, true even to a degree at the state level, but wholly true at the level of Washington D.C. Washington is a government controlled by huge corporations, especially financial corporations. It is a government that stomps on people’s rights and freedoms with self-declared righteous impunity. It sops up our taxes to finance foreign entanglements that would shock George Washington, who warned strongly against them, but that the Washington of our day exults in.
A smattering of dollars is grudgingly allowed for the people’s needs while gargantuan sums are shoveled out for more and more horrifying ways to kill people and destroy the environment throughout the world. Adding insult to injury, government institutions that once only admitted in whispers that government was for purchase now blatantly parade the fact, and even the Supreme Court of the United States declares that money is freedom. Money counts, money wins, money in politics is just the way things are, and ought to be.
Meanwhile, the people perish. A woman in the car in front of me yesterday had this bumper sticker on her vehicle: “I am having an out-of-money experience.”
A New Kind of Political Party
Back in 1984 a small group of independent thinkers and activists saw some of this beginning to happen, had seen it getting worse in the late ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. We felt that the voice of the people would get dimmer, that the people’s needs would get shorter and shorter shrift, and that the coming ecological crisis would be coming on strong. We were right.
But little did we know just how bad it was going to get, and how fast. We could not really have imagined just how little was going to be done about it by the government and the big corporations and financial institutions. Indeed we could barely have conceived their degree of denial, their perverse refusal to act in a timely way, or to act at all!
We took the plunge—we decided to form a new political party, a Green political party. On January14, 1984, we decided to form not just a new party, but also a vehicle that was at once a party and a movement: Greens active in the party, in electoral campaigns, in public office, and on the issues that matter to the people.
Why is this? Well, we were after basic change, fundamental change—healing change, creative change. Our vehicle would be a party in tune with the many movements for change. It’s major keys for action would be the ballot box and dialogue, rather than force, coercion, and violence.
This takes time. It is not something that can happen overnight. A new kind of commitment is required. The search for advantage yes; the will to act, yes; the wisdom to know this will take a while, indeed; and to deeply nurture, in those of us taking action, an abiding commitment to changing the world. We sought and seek others to join us who have this commitment. That especially is our message to young people, and they are getting into it with gusto. The youth in our party are taking over! That is not only welcome and glorious—for me, it also lets me play a low-key role in the party from now on.
Changing the World through Party and Movement
From 1984 onwards we’ve set about to change the world. We’ve had help from many others, but we’ve been the spark plug in most cases.
We’ve run for governor four times and we’ve run for the United States Senate. We’ve strongly supported the U.S. Green Party’s candidates for president and vice president. And our own Pat LaMarche ran for vice president with David Cobb in 2004. We began running for statewide office shortly after we founded the Party. Greg Gerritt was the first Green in the country to run for state legislature.
And remember that great moment in the election of 2002 when John Eder became the first Green Party candidate in the US to win election to state legislature. It was a record that still stands, but this year we are definitely headed in that direction to repeat what he did.
We put a big dent in the nuclearization of Maine, and it has been stopped.
We stopped Signal Corporation’s campaign for a waste-to-energy plant in the mid-coast. This made it possible for the towns in the mid-coast to take up recycling of waste and do it in earnest, which has happened!
We stopped clear cutting of forests through huge campaigns headed by Jonathan Carter.
We pushed hard to get Maine ready for single payer health care. Pat LaMarche has been a mover and a shaker; it was the signature issue in her campaign for governor in 2006. Claire Mortimer in Penobscot country has also taken a lead on this issue, as have many, many other members of the MGIP.
We helped push for Clean Elections, a major factor in the battle against the monopolizing power of Big Money in politics.
With Nancy Allen in the lead, we battled against the big corporate campaign for natural gas development, arguing the need to foster solar and wind power instead.
We were the first (and for a long time the only) political party to call for gay and lesbian rights and gay/lesbian marriage. Greens have played a strong role in the many referenda in the struggle.
Morgan d’Arc has pushed hard for gender equality in Maine and in the composition of leadership in our party, and she topped that off by establishing a vigorous women’s caucus in the Green Party of the United States.
Green Party members and leaders have taken, and continue to take, a decisive role in the peace movement in Maine. Rosalie Paul, Jacqui Deveneau, and Christine De Troy, among others, have been resolute pioneers to change the world from one of war to one of peace. Rosie and Christine have launched and sustain a vibrant, annual Peace Fair in Brunswick every August.
Green Party member and now also MGIP candidate for the legislature, Bob Klotz, is leading Maine’s 350 Movement to change present policies that hugely and dangerously favor oil and natural gas producing corporations. In alliance with the national 350 Movement led by Bill McKibben, they are a growing movement for dealing effectively with climate change.
Green Party members Betty King, Mary Heath, and Mary Beth Sullivan, among others, are relentless in their efforts to assist the poor and the homeless.
The cooperative movement has been close to our hearts—Jane Livingston and Betsy Garrold are champions of this fundamental alternative to capitalism.
Local food and small farms have been and continue to be very high in our priorities.
Greens are active in many land trusts throughout Maine and we’ve helped pioneer ecological education. Carla Rensenbrink plays a strong role in both the Cathance River Education Alliance and the Brunswick/Topsham Land Trust.
Green Party member Bruce Gagnon has initiated and steadfastly followed through on the widely fought campaign to “Bring the War Dollars Home”; he and Mary Beth Sullivan and others have been equally indefatigable in arousing public concern about the persistent use of Bath Iron Works for military production and only for military production. Their efforts now include a push to diversify BIW.
We are now marshalling people power to stop Monsanto. A member of our Steering Committee, Whitley Marshall is the spark plug.
In Maine’s largest city, Portland, the Greens have become the second party, surpassing the Republicans. Green Party members, led by David Marshall, play a crucial role in Portland’s city council. Green Party members are winning elections to the Portland School Board. Holly Seliger and Anna Trevorrow are now serving. Earlier, Ben Meiklejohn served on the School Board.
We are very active in localization movements and the entire emerging development of a new economy at the grass roots.
We are pushing hard for renewable solar power and wind power that is rooted in local, people-centered energy production and use, not in big corporations. Fred Horch has already done much to advance this and is gearing up to do much more. Fred has run for the legislature twice in Brunswick, building the party base there, and is running for the state senate this year.
Randall Parr helped stop the highly dangerous gas terminal in the Searsport region. Now he is organizing a coalition for public banking, and he’s running for the State house as one of our l5 Green legislative candidates. Talk about movement and party going hand in hand! We ARE walking on two legs—as we said we were going to do when we began—the party and the movement.
I might add that I have been active in several if not most of the efforts and campaigns I’ve listed. Recently, about 3 years ago, I also was a spark plug in getting a Vital Connections group together. Vital Connections continues to spur the movers and shakers in local and localized projects to connect with one another. The goal is to help Maine’s mid-coast region achieve as much self-sufficiency and self-government as practicable.
We have 15 legislative candidates this year. There’s no reason we can’t double that number in 2016 and grow beyond it in 2018. We’ve learned a lot about campaigning and gathering signatures and holding caucuses in Maine’s many counties.
We have heroes in this regard: Jon Olsen has been peerless in gathering signatures to get our candidates on the ballot. Ben Chipman is probably the best gatherer of signatures and organizer of campaigns in the country. Anna Trevorrow has shown how persistence, skill and determination in your campaigning can yield big results. Ben Meiklejohn has been and continues to do truly energizing work in getting towns and counties up to speed in their organizing for caucuses and for becoming a steady presence in their locality.
We are developing as a party!
We will return to field a candidate for governor.
We are rich. We are on the move!
One thing especially I want to leave with you. It’s about Abe Lincoln—those parting words in his Gettysburg address. We all know them: “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people”—a clarion call to all to change the world! Let us remember his words that way and draw inspiration from them in the darkening days ahead, and continue to move forward to change the world.