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“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct scenes, to review its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.” (Winston Churchill)

So it is now as the Bank of North Dakota celebrates its 100th birthday. Faint and flickering light is provided from current day political leaders. They fear the true history of the Nonpartisan League will kindle the political passion that was North Dakota’s Camelot. It was a passion that turned “go home and slop the hogs” into the only state-owned bank in the United States.

That prairie fire of economic democracy burned clean through the big-business-controlled state government. The Nonpartisan League’s newspaper, the Leader, reached thousands of readers and was an effective antidote for the weekly and daily newspapers who railed against the movement. Even th–e newly formed cooperative extension service advised farmers against joining the League. The establishment could not withstand the passion farmers had for fair treatment. Even now, descendants of Leaguers hold dearly the relics of that passion, the pins, the letters, the meeting notices, copies of the Leader, the cartoons, and the goat. Nowadays "GOAT" stands for Greatest Of All Time; then, the NPL chose the billy goat because it was the only animal that fought with its head. The NPL out-thought the Republicans' elephant and the Democrats' donkey. They fought with their head in unparalleled solidarity, as in “we’ll stick-we’ll win” and with brilliant strategies that insured workers injured on the job, lowered interest rates for farm loans, increased the price of wheat, and saved thousands of farm families from losing their farms.

Today’s electorate cannot hear the echoes of the League’s call to stick and win because most political leaders are not worthy of repeating it. Most political leaders cannot call the electorate to stick together to defeat the powers that control state government today because they are themselves controlled by those powers.

One hundred years ago, in July of 1919, the Bank of North Dakota opened for business. This summer of 2019 there will be tours of the bank available to the public. There is a lot of history that won’t be covered by tours, and if that historic trail is too dimly lit for you, you can bring your own light. Read Michael Lansing’s “Insurgent Democracy,” Lloyd Omdahl’s “The Insurgents,” see “Northern Lights” by John Hanson, and Prairie Public Broadcasting’s “Non Partisan League.” Read Mike Jacobs' “The Bank of North Dakota.”

Those who want to feel the passion of the League should read “The Story of the Nonpartisan League” by Charles Edward Russell. Russell concludes this book, published in 1920, with these words: “However this may show in the sequel, the fair, and I believe the sure, deduction from this record of remarkable struggle is that it is part of the long conflict men have waged through every generation against the injustice that poisons mortal existence. And next, that it has set a new mark in that struggle. The Nonpartisan League may go to pieces next year or it may become a permanent feature in our political system; I do not know. But I do most earnestly believe that the mark it has set will never be removed.”

Injustice that poisons mortal existence – meet the Nonpartisan League – see the mark left by the League. A bank built to look like a riverboat that overlooks the great Missouri River. However dimly lit by history, it is indeed a mark that will never be removed. Nonpartisan League goat equals Greatest Of All Time.

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Bill Patrie has been recognized for his work as a cooperative developer by the National Farmers Union, the Association of Cooperative Educators and the National Cooperative Business Association.

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