Despite the two-party system in the U.S., there have been times in our nation's history when some third parties have become quite popular in the midst of the dominance by the two major parties. While it has been vilified by many, socialism was very appealing as an ideology in Oklahoma prior to the outbreak of World War I. Oklahoma's political history is one in which the Democratic Party, especially in rural Oklahoma, held dominance in the state legislature, as well as that of the state executive branch.
Oklahoma would not elect its first Republican governor until Henry Bellmon defeated Bill Atkinson in 1962, and in that same decade, the U.S. Supreme Court would issue a binding opinion that would impact state legislative districts, which came to be known as the "one man one vote" doctrine. The 1907 Oklahoma State Constitution contained a provision that required state lawmakers to redraw the state congressional districts in order to reflect the growth of Oklahoma's population in terms of equal districts, yet by the second part of the 20th century, Oklahoma's rural districts carried more political weight than that of the much larger urban regions.
The Warren Court, in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), ruled statehouses were required to redraw the state legislative boundaries so the state would contain legislative districts with at least roughly equally represented populations. During the dominance of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma from 1907 throughout the first World War, the Socialist Party would challenge the Democratic hold on the state. And the Socialist Party of Oklahoma had widespread support from the state's immigrants, unions, farmers, and those who embraced progressive social reform.
During the era of the Oklahoma Land Runs of the late 19th century, I think it can be said that an agrarian radical element developed, which was the result of a combination of many poor farmers who were dealing with incredible adversity while the economics were under the preeminence of big business such as the railroad. It was thus no surprise that one out of every Oklahoman was marking a ballot for the Socialist Party, and Socialist candidates in the Sooner State were emerging from the polls victoriously.
However, the Socialist Party opposed America's entry into the Great War, and Oklahoma wheat farmers were then guaranteed a fair market price for their product by the federal government. Since the war was benefiting the agrarian interests then why oppose the war? The anti-militarist Socialist partisans from Oklahoma who subsisted off of green corn failed to arrest President Woodrow Wilson, and by the early 1920s, the Oklahoma Socialist Party was fading into obscurity.
Oklahoma would see a resurgence of the Socialist Party during the Great Depression as many Americans had come to the conclusion that capitalism had played itself out, and there were some Americans who fled to the Soviet Union. The Socialist Party of America, by the early 1970s, became known as the Social Democratic Party, and a split then ensued with the emergence of the Democratic Socialists of America. And the organization has stood behind several Democratic candidates including Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and most recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Many Americans reject socialism or the party itself as anti-American, yet is it anti-American to propose solutions to income inequality or discrimination based on gender, race, and religion? Ultimately, it is certainly not anti-American to believe in a vision of a more equitable and humane social order with the implementation of reforms that can weaken the power and influence of corporate America.
Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator with a special emphasis on civics and history.