© 2024 Maine Public | Registered 501(c)(3) EIN: 22-3171529
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Scroll down to see all available streams.

John Rensenbrink, co-founder of Maine and national Green Party, has died

John Rensenbrink, second from the right, at a U.S. Senate debate in 1996. From left: Joseph E. Brennan, William Clarke, John Rensenbrink and Susan M. Collins.
Maine Public Television
John Rensenbrink, second from the right, at a U.S. Senate debate in 1996. From left: Joseph E. Brennan, William Clarke, John Rensenbrink and Susan M. Collins.

John Rensenbrink, a former professor and author who co-founded the Green Party in Maine and nationally, died last weekend. He was 93.

A native of Minnesota, Rensenbrink had a lifelong interest in politics and government but had grown disillusioned with the two major parties during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In 1983, he was spending time in Europe when he heard that a new political party known as the Greens had won several dozen seats in the German Parliament. When his friend and fellow activist Alan Philbrook attended Canada’s first-ever Green Party event later that year, the two men decided it was time for something similar in Maine.

"I had become pretty disenchanted with the leadership of the Democratic Party,” Rensenbrink told Maine Public Radio during a 2014 interview. “I felt it was moving away from the people and was responding to calls for doing the same old thing and maintaining their power at the top."

That first Green Party meeting in Augusta drew about 16 people and lasted for several hours. Today, the Green Independent Party remains a fixture on Maine's political landscape, if still a small one in terms of total numbers. As of June, there were just over 45,000 registered Green Independents in Maine, representing about 4 percent of all voters in the state.

But Rensenbrink would also play a key role in the formation of a national Green Party as well as the Global Greens caucus, which said on social media on Saturday that he played a key role in the international Green Party movement and “is remembered fondly by Greens all over the planet.”

He would also serve as a mentor to Green candidates in Maine and around the country, including Pat LaMarche.

"He believed the citizens could make the decisions necessary to take the power back,” LaMarche said in an interview on Monday.

LaMarche described Rensenbrink was a personal friend and an adopted grandfather to her children as well as a political advisor. The pair first met during his own bid for U.S. Senate in 1996 when she interviewed him for a radio program. LaMarche said that as soon as he began speaking, she was “blown away” by commitment to a “justice-based government” that was formed by and served the average person. LaMarche later ran as a Green for governor of Maine and for vice president. And during that 2004 race, she was spending nights in shelters to call attention to the plight of the homeless.

"When I came home and I was angry and hurt and sad about the way we treat our fellow human beings, John was my first call,” she said. “He would make sense of the senseless for me. And that sort of wisdom is what we've lost. That’s why I think so many people are really grieving the loss, even people who never met him."

Rensenbrink was a lifelong environmentalist and progressive rabble-rouser. In addition to his advocacy for the environment, he campaigned heavily to close the former Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset. He told Bowdoin’s student student newspaper, the Bowdoin Orient, two years ago that he was denied tenure at Williams College in the late 60s because of his political leanings. He then landed at Bowdoin, where he would teach for several decades.

In his run for U.S. Senate, he focused on social justice, ecological balance, the middle class and the cancer of big-money politics.

"That is the problem of our politics,” Rensenbrink said during a televised debate on Maine Public. “That is why we can't get a health policy through, we can't get a decent energy policy through because the oil industry contributed $23 million last year to members of Congress alone."

Rensenbrink finished third with 4 percent of the vote in a race won by a young Republican named Susan Collins. But he would remain active in the Maine and international Green Party movements for decades more and was heavily involved along with wife Carla in community programs in Topsham.