John Rensenbrink

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John Rensenbrink
Born (1928-08-30) August 30, 1928 (age 88)
Pease, Minnesota, USA
Alma mater University of Michigan
Occupation Political scientist; co-founder of the Green Party of the United States
Spouse(s) Carla Washburne Resenbrink
Children Kathryn, Margaret and Elizabeth

John C. Rensenbrink (born August 30, 1928) is an American political scientist, philosopher, journalist, educational innovator, and political activist. He has initiated and helped found many organizations, the most prominent of which are the Maine Green Party (1984) and the Green Party of the United States (1984-87) for both of which he was a principal founder.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Rensenbrink was born in 1928 in rural Pease, Minnesota, one of seven children of Dutch-American farming parents. Their mother, Effie, was born in the Netherlands; their father, John, was the eldest son of Dutch immigrants. where he worked on his family's farm. Rensenbrink and his brother Henry operated the dairy farm upon their father’s untimely death in 1943. Unable to attend high school, Rensenbrink took a correspondence course conducted by the American School in Chicago. Leaving home at the age of 18, he attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he studiued history, English and philosophy and . His mother and siblings moved to that city the following year. He graduated from Calvin with a BA in 1950. He then entered the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, focused primarily on political philosophy, and received a Masters Degree in political science in 1951. This was followed by a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Amsterdam from 1951-52. Thereafter, he studied at the University of Chicago, concentrating on political philosophy, American politics, and constitutional law, and completed his Ph.D. in political science from that university in 1956. His Ph.D thesis was entitled “Technology and Utopia: the Structure of Freedom”.[2]

Academic career[edit]

Rensenbrink began teaching at Coe College in 1956 as an assistant professor of history and international relations. After a year at Coe teaching history and international relations, he taught political philosophy and American government at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts for four years. He met Carla Washburne of Williamstown and they married in 1959. They moved to Maine in 1961. Rensenbrink taught political philosophy and history at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine for one year before taking a job in 1962 for three years as Education Advisor to the governments of Kenya and Tanzania, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. He and Carla and their daughters Kathryn and Margaret, aged three and one respectively, returned to Bowdoin College in 1965. Rensenbrink was promoted to the tenured position of Associate Professor in 1968 and to full Professor in 1974. The Rensenbrink’s third child, Elizabeth, was born in January, 1968.[2]

Political career[edit]

In 1968, Rensenbrink joined other Maine Democrats and formed the "Reform Democrats of Maine", which sought to help end the Vietnam War and reform the Maine Democratic Party. In both 1976 and 1978, Rensenbrink unsuccessfully sought the Maine Democratic Party's nomination for the Maine State Senate, including a 170 loss in the 1978 primary. During the early 1980s, Rensenbrink joined with others in campaigns to close Maine’s only nuclear plant. The campaigns were battles lost, by close margins, but the struggle against nuclear power was won in terms of public opinion. The nuclear plant, Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, closed down within several years of these campaigns.

Green Party[edit]

1984 was a decisive year for Rensenbrink. While in Poland the previous year, he had heard about the election in what was then West Germany of Green Party candidates. They had won 27 seats in the nation’s Parliament. That summer, on his way back to the United States, Rensenbrink stopped off in Munich and in Frankfurt to visit friends who had joined the German Green Party and were celebrating their unexpected Parliamentary success. That fall, back in Maine and Bowdoin College, Alan Philbrook, a fellow anti-nuclear activist, called to say he had been at the first meeting of the Greens in Canada and, on his return to Maine, registered the Green Party of Maine. The two then called a meeting for January 14, 1984 to consider forming a Green Party organization in Maine. This was accomplished in Augusta on that date -- the first of its kind, as they later discovered, in the United States.[3]

Rensenbrink quickly made plans to seek early retirement (which was accomplished in 1989) and threw himself into Green Party organizing in Maine and in the United States. A meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota was followed by regular monthly meetings of what was first called the Committees of Correspondence, later changed to Green Committees of Correspondence, with a Clearing House in Kansas City headed by Dee Berry. Working with the Clearing House, the annual gathering of a Green Assembly, and the Inter-Regional Committee that had formed, Rensenbrink headed a three-year project to produce a Green Policy Program, generated from the over 300 grass roots groups that had spring up in the early years. The Program was completed and approved in September 1990, at the annual meeting of the Green Assembly in Boulder, Colorado. Thereafter, Rensenbrink, with others, formed the Green Politics Network whose aim was the eventual creation of a national Green Party of associated state Green Parties. The result was the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP), which, from 1996 to 2001 grew to include all of the state Green parties and then morphed into the Green Party of the United States in 2001. Rensenbrink has continued to be active in the USGP’s National Committee and annual Conventions and Presidential campaigns and in its International Committee, which he had founded in 1997 as part of ASGP.[3]

In 1996, he ran for the United States Senate against Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Joe Brennan. He finished in third place, receiving 23,441 votes (3.9%) as the Maine Green Party's nominee.[2] The Maine Green Party changed its name to Maine Green Independent Party (MGIP) in 1998. It has grown steadily. With more than 30,000 Maine residents enrolled in the party as of June 2012, it has the largest per capita membership of any Green Party in the United States. It fielded a candidate for Governor in each four-year election cycle from 1994 to 2006, getting 10% of the vote in 2002 and 2006. Rensenbrink worked as campaign manager for two gubernatorial campaigns: Jonathan Carter in 1994 and Pat LaMarche in 1998 and worked as a major advisor in the others. MGIP has run 10 or more candidates for the state legislature in most elections, placing one in the state House of Representatives in 2002 and 2004. It has become the second party after the Democrats in Maine’s largest city, Portland, which has had Greens in elected office continuously since 2001. From 2003 to 2011, the city had at least four elected Green officeholders serving simultaneously.

Community Work[edit]

Rensenbrink helped found Merrymeeting Community Action (MCA) in mid-coast Maine in 1966-1967. Together with Professor Paul Hazelton of Bowdoin College’s Education Department, Rensenbrink developed and wrote for MCA the first successfully funded anti-poverty program in Maine and served on MCA’s Board of Directors for several years.

In 1999, Rensenbrink, together with his wife Carla and several fellow townspeople, created Topsham’s Future, a citizen action group dedicated to balancing the then very rapid economic development of Topsham with the preservation and vitality of community values and neighborhood integrity. One of its major accomplishments was creation of the Cathance River Nature Preserve through extended negotiations with retirement-community developer John Wasileski. Building on their success in the negotiation, Rensenbrink and Wasileski joined together to found the Cathance River Education Alliance a program in 2000, now in its 12th year. The program provides hands-on ecological education for thousands of students and teachers in area schools.

Together with several other concerned and influential citizens of Topsham in 2008, Rensenbrink helped defeat at the polls a proposal to replace Topsham’s Town Meeting form of government with a Council form of government. Following this they persuaded the town Select Board to create a Topsham Government Improvement Committee. This Committee, chaired by Rensenbrink, produced a Report recommending improvements in Topsham’s Town Meeting, some of which have been instituted with others pending.

Rensenbrink, as part of his goal to help develop an international community of strong ecological and politically alert activists from among Greens and Green-minded people, established the Green Horizon Foundation in 2002. Among its projects, it publishes the Green Horizon Magazine, now in its 89h year, of which Rensenbrink is the chief editor together with co-Editor Steve Welzer of the New Jersey Green Party. The foundation also conducts a website ( and does book publishing.

Educational research[edit]

Rensenbrink participated with three professors from three other universities (summer, 1966) in an experimental and interdisciplinary seminar for rising black and white freshmen at Cornell University entitled “Why are there so many poor people in a rich country like the United States?” Michael Maccoby, one of the four professors involved, described the experiment in the Harvard Educational Review. (Fall, 1967)

In 1967, on the subject of Black Africa, Rensenbrink pioneered the first Freshman Seminar at Bowdoin. The Freshman Seminar became part of Bowdoin’s regular curriculum thereafter. His pioneer seminar, inspired by the Cornell experiment, drew an equal number of black and white students. Continuing in the spirit of innovation, Rensenbrink worked with black and white students to organize a student-taught and student-graded course at Bowdoin. This was at the end of the 60s. A leading student participant in that experiment, Barry Mills, is currently President of Bowdoin College.

Rensenbrink conducted research, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, on four elementary-level educational change projects in mid-coast Maine (1972-75) and published a monograph stemming from that project entitled “How Change Does and Does Not Take Place: how aims are modified in the process of getting there from here.”

Rensenbrink began attending the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association in 1969 (APSA). He joined a movement for reform of the APSA, the Caucus For a New Political Science (CNPS). He became its president for two years, 1974 and 1975. Between his promotion to full Professor in 1974 and full retirement in 1994, Rensenbrink served as chair of the Department of Government from 1977-79 and from 1987-89. He chaired the Afro-American Studies Committee from 1976 to 1982; and chaired the Bowdoin Faculty’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors 1979-80. He innovated several new courses: Theory and Strategy of Social Change; Social Pathologies of the 20th Century; the Multi-National Corporation; and the Politics of Sex, Race, and Class.

Rensenbrink spent the first six months of 1983 in Poland, accompanied by his wife and three daughters, as a research professor at the Marie Sklodowska University in Lublin, sponsored jointly by that university and Lock Haven State University in Pennsylvania.. He wrote his first book, based on that experience, in 1988, published by the University of Louisiana Press, “Poland Challenges a Divided World.”

Following semi-retirement in 1989, Rensenbrink continued teaching at Bowdoin for several years, creating an interdisciplinary seminar for majors in Black, Women’s, and Environmental Studies.

Starting in the mid-1990s and continuing to the present, Rensenbrink has participated in the International Society for Universal Dialogue (ISUD). He has presented several papers at their world Congresses, held every two years, and served as its Secretary and Vice President before being elected President at the Helsinki Congress in 2005. In that capacity, he organized the 7th Congress of ISUD at Hiroshima in 2007. His presidential address was on cross-cultural dialogue as a major factor in the search for peace.


  • Poland Challenges a Divided World, Louisiana State University Press, 1988
  • The Greens and the Politics of Transformation, Preface by Jay Walljasper R&E Miles Publishers, 1992
  • Against All Odds, the Green Transformation of American Politics, foreword by Ralph Nader, Leopold Press 1999