Green Party of the United States mourns Founder John Rensenbrink
The Green Party of the United States mourns the passing of one of its esteemed founding members and leaders, John Rensenbrink. He passed away peacefully surrounded by his family in hospice on July 30, 2022. He was 93 and transitioned one month before his 94th birthday.
Greens are remembering John Rensenbrink for his role as prime mover and leader of an independent political party dedicated to ecology, social and economic justice, democracy, and nonviolence and for the intellectual weight he gave the Green Party movement as a global imperative as awareness of the climate crisis emerged.
Rensenbrink was a highly respected political scientist, philosopher, author, journalist, educational innovator, and conservationist by trade. In 1965, he began teaching political philosophy and history at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. After semi-retirement in 1989, he continued teaching at Bowdoin for several years, creating an interdisciplinary seminar for majors in Black, Women’s, and Environmental Studies.
He was also the founder of he Maine Green Party (now known as the Maine Green Independent Party: https://mainegreens.org) in 1984 and the Cathance River Education Alliance (https://www.creamaine.org), and ecological education project for local schools, young children, and High School students in mid-coast Maine. As a political scientist and scholar, Rensenbrink believed that theory and practice were inextricably linked. With his faith in humanity’s capacity for self-governance, he encouraged the education of individuals so that all might participate in a healthy democracy. He referred to this praxis frequently in his work and writings.
“Throughout the years when the Green Party needed someone to move it forward, whether as a convener, candidate, or leader, John was the one who seemed to find a way,” said Greg Gerritt, former Maine Green and current member of the Green Party of Rhode Island. “With his passing, I am turning to his 1996 US Senate campaign slogan ‘Think Rensenbrink’ as the embodiment of his approach to politics as both personal and thoughtful policy. John leaves behind a political movement that embraces the maxim ‘do not mourn — organize.’”
John Rensenbrink is survived by his loving wife Carla and their three daughters, Kathryn, Margaret, and Elizabeth. He resided in Topsham, Maine.
Frustrated with the ineffectiveness and war-mongering of the Democratic Party and following a visit to the Canadian Greens, John Rensenbrink and his colleague Alan Philbrook convened the first Green Party meeting in the United States, which took place in Maine in January of 1984.
He remained an active and dedicated Green via working on every level, from the Merrymeeting Greens Sagadahoc County, the Maine Green Independent Party, the New England Committees of Correspondence, the national Green Party, and Global Greens.
When US Greens launched presidential campaigns in 1996, Rensenbrink encouraged the party to merge national campaigns with local organizing to ensure that presidential efforts would help build local organizations and raise the profile of state Green parties.
“John Rensenbrink for decades embodied the best of American progressive politics linking thought to action, and motivating Greens from the local to the national and international levels,” said consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who led Green presidential tickets in 1996 and 2000 and counted himself as one of Rensenbrink’s closest allies.
As a testament to Rensenbrink’s leadership in combining Green philosophy with practical local politics, 30% of all Greens who won in US partisan elections have been elected in Maine.
“To use an ecological analogy, while the rest of us are pines, oaks, maples and birches, he was our sequoia. To honor his memory, I commend his last book Ecological Politics: For Survival and Democracy,” said Jon Olsen, former Co-Chair of the Maine Green Independent Party, founder of the Green Party of Hawai’i, and peace activist.
Global Green Leader
After helping to found the Green Party in the US, John Rensenbrink introduced party members to the international Green movement. He worked to ensure that the newly-formed Green Politics Network, established in 1992, was connected to Green peers in other nations, especially in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
When the Association of State Green Parties (which later became the Green Party of the United States) was formed in 1996 with Rensenbrink as a key architect, he convinced the new federation to create an International Committee and served as its first Co-Chair.
As US delegate to the first-ever Global Greens Congress held in Canberra, Australia in 2001, he was also the main force behind the establishment of a Global Green Network, linking all Green parties in the world through an Internet-based meeting space. At the same time, he served as US delegate to the Federation of Green Parties of the Americas (https://en.everybodywiki.com/Federation_of_the_Green_Parties_of_the_Americas), where he helped build US cooperation with the most powerful Green parties in the Western Hemisphere, including those in Mexico, Canada, and Brazil.
When the European Green parties formed a continental federation to contest European Union elections in 2004, Rensenbrink was one of the US Greens invited to Rome, Italy, to celebrate the creation of the “European Greens” alliance.
“For many Greens around the world, John became the most familiar and most trusted face of the US Green movement,” said Tony Affigne of Rhode Island, who traveled with Rensenbrink to Green meetings in Rome, Ottawa, Canberra, Santo Domingo, and Quebec, and succeeded him as International Committee Co-Chair.
Across the Green Horizon
In an effort to keep like-minded justice warriors informed, John Rensenbrink co-created Green Horizon (http://Green-Horizon.org), a news and opinion magazine in 2003
“It was my privilege to jointly edit and publish Green Horizon Magazine with John Rensenbrink over a span of twenty years,” said Steven Welzer, Co-Editor of the Green Horizon. “John was the one who conceptualized and initiated this distinctive publication — a print magazine covering the international Green politics movement from the perspective of this country’s state-based ecological parties. Readers of and contributors to the magazine appreciated John’s impeccable guidance. They were also aware of his lifelong commitment to the movement, within which John wore many hats and played many roles.”
A tribute issue in honor of John Rensenbrink was published in 2020 and is available upon request from Green Horizon Foundation, P.O. Box 2029, Princeton, NJ 08543.
More tributes from Greens
“John was a mentor and a guide to so many. I will miss him dearly.” — Jacqui Deveneau, Chair of the Cumberland County Greens (Maine), Senior Advisor on the State Committee and National Delegate from Maine
“Although John’s name is not widely known among the mainstream political world, his work had, and will have, a lasting critical impact on a global scale and has done far more than most will ever realize for the cause of third parties in the US.” — Holly Hart, Iowa Green and former three-term Secretary of the Green Party of the United States
“John Rensenbrink believed Americans were entitled to a justice based government of their own making with representation at the highest levels that respected civil rights, economic justice, and ecological wisdom.” — Pat LaMarche, 2004 Green Vice-Presidential nominee and two-time gubernatorial candidate; John Rensenbrink was Ms. Lamarche’s campaign manager.
“He lived and lives transformatively, teaching the necessity of rational hope, fueled by the energy of irrational and polymorphous loving, acting responsibly to correct error, and the importance of work in the public realm to directly assist others in living better lives.” — Elie Yarden, Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts alternate delegate to the Green Party’s National Committee and one of the oldest Greens at 99
Biography of John Rensenbrink: Americans Who Tell The Truth
Seeing the Forest: A Q&A with John Rensenbrink
By Matt O’Donnell, Bowdoin College, June 15, 2018
2020 Green Horizon special issue about John
Green Party History Weekend – John Rensenbrink
Recorded March 28-30, 2008 in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, CA
Ecological Politics: For Survival and Democracy
By John Rensenbrink (Lexington Books, 2017)
John Rensenbrink: Wikipedia entry