There was police violence. Consider the story below from February 1968 to get some sense of what they were dealing with (I apologize about the slight tilt in the image but this is what I have):
- The problem of police violence against black people has been a long one for America.
I wrote a book about the group that emerged from this conference in 2014/15 called How Social Movements Die: Repression and Demobilization of the Republic of New Africa. The book told the story of the Republic of New Africa (or RNA) but that story was obscured a little by an interest that I had in exploring how repression influenced social movements. This did not go over too well though as many people that study social movements don't normally think of black nationalist movements - preferring the civil rights movement as a topic of study. There are also those who think that the topic of radical black social movements is only something that concerns black people and not the broader field of political science or, to a lesser extent, sociology (I'm going to explore this claim more rigorously by evaluating what examples are cited in published work). Aware of this, I even had some conversation with the publisher about leaving the subtitle out of the American version of the manuscript just trying to get someone to engage with the content like with people who study media bias but don't consider my Media Bias book employing the case of the Black Panther Party. The RNA book was also a bit odd because it was not quantitative enough for the rigorous crowd as I was doing this in a series of articles and it was not qualitative enough for the storytelling/narrative crowd because it actually made a reference to some theory and data. In fact, one of my book reviewers pushed me:
- Is the book really about demobilization? It is as much about emergence and trajectory.
- Potentially forcing a theoretical framework and research question.
- Perhaps tell “cradle to grave” story.
- Provide inductive theory after story.
- Comment a: I am most interested in demobilization and believe that the biggest deficiency in the literature exists here as well (acknowledged by both reviewers). The book ends when the organization known as the Republic of New Africa (RNA) ends. This said, I admit that the story of demobilization is intricately connected with discussions of emergence and trajectory (see comment/question 1) or, at least, they should be. I think that this awareness is reflected in the title of the book (Mobilization, Repression and Demobilization) as well as the structure of the book (i.e., I begin with a discussion of pre-RNA organizations and then move to/through the RNA). Highlighting the nuances of emergence and trajectory arguments would increase the discussion of the literature, which is something that I would prefer not to do and something that I do not believe Cambridge would appreciate either as it might make the book longer as I moved through what the literature has said on this topic (admittedly much more than what exists on termination).
- Action a: I will introduce some discussion of social movement organization emergence and trajectory while highlighting that I am most interested in demobilization. There is more discussion of these areas within the literature and thus I will assume that knowledge of them is somewhat well developed, allowing me to discuss them in less detail.
- Comment b: I do not believe that I am “forcing” a theoretical framework. The theory emerged from my reading of the available literature. Part of it also emerged from considering the material employed within the manuscript. The research question was not “forced” either. I believe that there are a great many questions that could be asked regarding the case and data available within this study. I am most interested in demobilization and this is the greatest weakness within the literature.
- Action b: I believe that the reviewer is responding to a relatively conventional/standard view where theories and hypotheses are presented and models are then run to “test” the argument. I can highlight the point (acknowledged by this reviewers; see comment/question 7) that the type of analysis provided within the book is frequently used to better understand causal mechanisms or generate new theory. In so doing, however, it is important to have some idea of what mechanisms are believed to already be involved as well as where these come from and this leads back to the point that some discussion of theory before the analysis is crucial.
- Comment c: I think that a “cradle to grave” theory is too ambitious and fear that the argument might come out as being too path dependent or (alternatively) too contingent. This would tend to push my argument to be a bit more encompassing than I wish (pushing against Reviewer 2’s point to make less ambitious claims). Additionally, the literature tends to break down emergence, dynamics/trajectory and termination, thus compelling me to deviate a great deal from what exists.
- Action c: As conceived and written, my theory about how repression influences social movement organizations is essentially a “cradle to grave” story and I can make this clearer thereby meeting the reviewer’s expectations. I will do this however noting that my main interest lies with demobilization/termination. Indeed, I think that one of my biggest points is that our understanding of how/why social movement organizations demobilize involves understanding how/why they were created as well as how/why they sustain themselves.
- Comment d: I do not wish to provide some inductive theory at the end the book (following the discussion/analysis of the data/case) for several reasons. First, I cannot think of any books where this was done satisfactorily and thus I cannot find a decent model. The one example I can come up with resulted in two different books (e.g., James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak led to Domination and the Art of Resistance). Second, I believe that most social science is not written in this way and that I will thus lose my audience. The format suggested is more in line with history and as I am not a historian, I do not feel comfortable writing in this format. In addition to this, I feel that research concerning African Americans is frequently viewed as being unimportant for theory as well as work outside of this community and thus if the case was put up front, the theoretical as well as broader implications of the work would be missed/ignored.
- Action d: None.
In retrospect, I was wrong. I should have adopted the cradle to grave framing and acknowledged that the book was not just about demobilization (this is something that members of the group pushed me on as well reminding me that "we ain't dead brother"). Additionally, I could have left out the theory and ran with the story, which was something that was suggested to me years before. Pushing me, I was asked: "why not just tell the story of the group? Why go into all this theory of the state and repression stuff? Why would African Americans take this action? Why would anyone? What did they do specifically? When? Where? How? I think people would be interested." Good questions. In line with this perspective, I should have just told the story and been a little more historian (and/or sociologist) than political scientist. In that spirit I'm going to now tell the story of the RNA more or less chronologically as it emerged on March 28, 1968 until the first cohort begins to leave the organization in 1972/3. For this, I will draw upon the book a little (it is there after all) but, more importantly, I will draw upon the extensive archive of material that I have on the group including pictures, posters, flyers, coloring books, videos, biographies, recordings, RNA documents, informant reports, arrest records, government evaluations as well as my thoughts about the topic spanning my 20 year journey researching.
Next week we go black to the future and move with the Republic of New Africa as they say enough, try to secede from the US and create a black nation.