How Social Movements Die: A Review

Mobilizing Ideas

Out this month is Christian Davenport’s book on movement demobilization titled How Social Movements Die, published by Cambridge University Press. In this theoretically-informative and conceptually-rich analysis of the birth and death of the Republic of New Africa (sometimes “Afrika”), a Black nationalist movement that emerged out of Detroit in the late 1960s, Davenport demonstrates how state-sponsored repression and internal movement dynamics interact and combine to bring about a movement’s demise. The book comes highly recommended, for reasons I outline below.

HSMD Book cover

The RNA was founded with four primary goals in mind: territorial autonomy in southern states, reparations for slavery, a separate governance structure, and the democratic participation of African Americans on matters of policy within these liberated territories. The movement relied on mainstream, nonviolent tactics, but also promoted militancy and produced an armed wing.  Regardless of any outside intervention, the RNA was likely destined for dissolution because of the mismatch…

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