Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Non-Partisan League dramatized

Based on the diaries of a former Non-Partisan League organizer, 94 yo Henry Martinson, Northern Lights is an exquisite examination of the hardships and challenges of organizing arguably USA’s most successful economically progressive movement. Filmed in NW North Dakota by John Hanson in 1978, it would win the Caméra d’Or award (best first feature) at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.

Only four of the actors in this film were professional. The rest were locals. As someone who once lived less than 50 miles from where this film was shot, I can assure everyone that they are very authentic. One of my favorite films—EVAH!

(Sorry, they took down the linked video. Apparently there's a reason a copy of this film is so hard to find.)


  1. Oh my, what a powerful movie and message done so well (first I’ve ever heard of the Nonpartisan League). My parents and grandparents suffered thru this time in history also (prior to the Great Depression) and it made my life better in the bargain because I didn’t come along until ’41, to grow up during the glory days of the ‘50’s when the Great War and Great Depression were both history...until that actor with the wily smile and smooth tongue beguiled America into believing in the false god of “trickle down” economics (and how so many still do).

    Meanwhile, what a great ending for the movie when the story teller at the end (in his 90’s while doing push-ups) knows he doesn’t have to worry or be in a hurry because he knows things are going to change for the better someday (because he knows the wily smiles and smooth-talk can’t last forever) because he knows that one of these days “they’ll go too far” and, since “change is exponential” these days (meaning change could happen at any time) we should all stay in shape and be ready to celebrate when the “Great Change” finally does occur.

    Our latest greatest hope for a happy future might be brewing in Boston (famous for Tea Parties) at where, rather than counting on mistakes to learn, they are learning to plan ahead (like NASA did to get us to the moon and back) by preventing big bad things from happening rather than learning from them, because we might not be able to learn fast enough from mistakes in: Artificial Intelligence that will be smarter than us (soon) – Biotech that could go awry at any time – Nuclear weapons that could nip us all in the bud (and New Nuclear power plants that could make the transition away from fossil fuels faster) – or Climate change that could pass the point of no return if we don’t wean ourselves off fossil fuels soon enough fast enough – or Economics that could collapse into a hopeless mess at any time – or Politics that could explode (or implode rather than grow up or give in to the path of history) – while fear and ignorance continue to thrive until Net Neutrality is embraced as a sane sensible path to a happy future for all (not just for those who can afford it).

    It was a treat to finally see you in person and hear what you sound like (in the “Thorstein Veblen restored” video) and thank you for that. Great presentation, well done! I’m feeling hopeful. I might even have to start doing push-ups again or something.

    1. Glad you enjoyed Northern Lights. The history of the rural Progressive movements is rarely, and often badly, told. Howard Zinn's alternative history classic doesn't have one sentence about them. Here in Minnesota, the Democratic party's real name is the DFL—the Democratic Farmer Labor party—and yet I would be willing to bet serious money that neither of our DFL senators could talk intelligently about the Farmer-Labor Party for three minutes.

      It should also be noted that although the Non-Partisan League was very popular in the state, it was wiped out when the people in charge of securing loyalty to W. Wilson's WW I efforts managed to get all the Minnesota NPL leadership thrown in jail where they stayed until around 1923. The Farmer-Labor Party was constructed out of the wreckage of the Minnesota NPL. My mother was a big supporter of the Farmer-Labor Party who had an encyclopedic understanding of the issues of rural poverty. When Jimmy Carter began to implement his right-wing economic agenda, she once sputtered at me, "Doesn't anyone remember how bad it was when the economy was deregulated?" Well, mom, the answer is "NO! No one remembers because those who could are dead or dying."

      I have made it a point to keep that memory alive but this has been very difficult. I once introduced myself at a DFL gathering by saying, "Hi, my name in Jonathan Larson and I represent the Farmer-Labor wing of the DFL." Found out that this is no longer considered appropriate with the crowd who recently thought that running a Goldwater Girl for president was considered a giant leap in human progress.