The Nonpartisan League

I was inspired throughout my life by the political philosophy of the Nonpartisan League of North Dakota, which flourished from 1916-1919 and 1933 in particular. By 1919, it was in 17 states and had a quarter million members. But repressive forces (and some internal fights) caused its demise as a national movement by the early 1920s. The NPL philosophy of how government should serve people still exists in the North Dakota Democratic/Nonpartisan League Party and the state-owned North Dakota Mill & Elevator and the Bank of North Dakota. Another legacy of the National NPL, according to Michael Lansing’s fabulous book on the National NPL (Insurgent Democracy), is the provincial health care system that grew to become the Canadian health care system. A socialist bank and mill and elevator in a very conservative state sounds like an anomaly; I write about their genesis in my memoir The Farmer’s Lawyer. My grandfather, a prominent NPLer, was President of the Bank of North Dakota from 1937-44.

The economic justice principles of the NPL still resonate. For example, The Farmer’s Lawyer tells the story of how the leaders of the NPL and Farm Holiday Association stopped farm foreclosures in the 1930s and renegotiated loans. Holiday members who were in their 70s and 80s were mentors to the young progressives like me who helped stop farm foreclosures in the 1980s. By reviving the NPL’s principles of economic democracy, I hope we can spark much needed change to policies affecting farmers, workers, and citizens at local, state, and federal levels.