The forward march continues

Josh Kramer

“The forward march of electric cooperatives has an even more profound significance in terms of our fight to preserve democracy.”

These words were shared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in a letter to the first meeting of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Meaningful words then, and still relevant today.

It has been said that the electric cooperative movement was born in politics. Founding members working with political leaders to electrify all parts of this great nation. Embracing democracy and utilizing the democratic process to provide all people a voice, to get things done and to be heard.

As electric cooperatives, for several decades, we’ve successfully worked with leaders from many stripes on all levels, fostering relationships built on respect, trust, decorum and civil dialogue. It’s enabled rural electrification to happen, from the first poles and wires and through decades of technological advancements and industry transitions.

Fostering a working democracy is a responsibility we all share. It takes effort, practice, showing up, advocacy, engagement and voting. It is up to the people to elect politicians to represent people, not some finite ideology.

Look, I get it. Folks and politicians fall into differing camps with ranging views, and that is often how we determine who we vote to represent us. But to be beholden exclusively to pleasing those of a particular ideology 100% of the time, in my opinion, is not healthy for democracy or organizations or people.

I’m often perplexed when I hear comments like, “This person is not Democratic enough,” or “This person is not Republican enough.” What really gets me is, “This person voted with ‘them,’” or “‘compromised’ on that.”

What does that even mean? Who gets to decide the terms? A blog, social media post or media personality? I hope not.

Respect, compromise, empathy, debate, dialogue, understanding (or attempting to understand) and, oh, yeah, listening – that is the recipe for a process that works, and those are attributes I personally look for in leadership. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with leaders, now and before, who demonstrate these qualities. And mind you, they’ve been leaders from across the political spectrum.

If I were a betting man, I’d guess most would prefer to be defined not by how he or she conforms to ideology, but by how he or she cooperates with others.

FDR’s concluding statement reads, “the individual finds his greatest gain through cooperation with his neighbors.”

The political landscape has changed since the early days of rural electrification, when FDR spoke these words. The ante is much higher now. And the value of leaders who listen, who remember the people they represent and who cooperate is something we must never lose.

Cooperation is the mark of a good leader, a good politician and a good neighbor. It is only through cooperation the forward march continues.

Josh Kramer, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of NDAREC. Contact him at