The Sun was shining as I was strolling
The wheat field waving the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice was chanting
This land was made for you and me
— Woody Guthrie
With socialism, even in a diluted and inchoate form, assuming a higher profile, I’m reminded of my early years in North Dakota during the 1950s. On the one hand, it wasn’t the Gestapo-like scenes from Standing Rock, today’s widespread sex trafficking in the booming oil fields in the western part of the state or the Trump-friendly votes of current Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. On the other hand, it was hardly idyllic with its duck-and-cover drills, loyalty oaths, McCarthyism, and stifling Evangelical Lutheran social mores. Still, there was at least a vague awareness that things had once been better.
I wasn’t a red or even a pink diaper baby, those who for better or worse gazed at Communist Manifesto picture books for toddlers and inherited their parents’ radical politics. In fact, red, white and blue diapers would be a more apt description. However, through cultural osmosis I must have internalized some sense of what remained of North Dakota’s radical political legacy.
In the early 1900s, 9 of 10 North Dakotans were farmers who were being bankrupted by ruthless out-of-state economic conglomerates. In response, they organized the Nonpartisan League (NPL) a socialist insursurgency movement. Together with elements of the Socialist Party and the IWW, the NPL quickly…