Black Panthers And Essay, Research Paper
The Black Panthers and the Political Process Theory
“We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.” This statement was the rallying call for Blacks across the nation to stand up and take what was owed to them. Armed with sincerity, the knowledge of such greats as Mao Tse-Tung and Malcolm X, law books, and rifles, the Black Panther Party fed the hungry, protected the weak from racist police, and presented a new theoretical perspective of Black political and social activism. Through this new perspective we gain knowledge of a group which rose out of the classical theoretical explanation of the political process theory. Throughout this paper the political process theory will be used to explain the goals, emergence, and tactics of the Black Panther Party.
Founded in October of 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in Oakland, Ca., the Black Panther Party was formed in response to the growing problem of police brutality towards blacks. The Black Panthers originally felt that violent revolution was the only means of achieving black liberation. In order to achieve liberation, the party called on all blacks to arm themselves for the struggle. The Black Panther Party was formed in order to free all people, from all forms of slavery, so that every man may be his own master.
For the vast majority of the white public and the white power structure, the Panthers represented only anti-governmental militancy. The B.P.’s viewpoint led to intense scrupulation by the authorities. In the end, it also led to several deaths at the hands of police and the FBI. For those who were not killed, the threat of incarceration was ever present. For some affiliated blacks, like Panther Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, they would be arrested on what often seemed to be made up charges. Despite the government’s hostility, the organization flourished throughout the early 1070’s. It swept across Black America and attracted some of the most articulate young Blacks on the revolutionary scene of the 1960’s. But it was the divisions within the Party itself, along with a focus on winning local political campaigns in Oakland, which led to the Black Panther’s decline by the mid-1970s. Today however, the legacy of the Panthers remains vivid in the minds of many; for it is a powerful illustration of the ability of individuals to rise up and join together to fight oppression.
Now that a general sense of this movement has been established we need to look at how the political process theory relates to this movement as a whole. To begin, the political process theory can be compared to a form of the resource mobilization theory because of their similarities and the fact that the political process theory still focuses on the importance of resources originating from a lower level (bottom-up as opposed to top-down). “The political process theory also recognizes the process of cognitive liberation. This states that while social inequalities may be constant, they have to be subjectively recognized by the group as problematic in order to be subject to change”(McAdam,notes). Finally, the political process theory takes into account the impact of the larger socio-political environment on movement emergence.
There are two main ideas of the political process theory that we will look at when comparing this theory to the Black Panther movement. The first idea is that the cause of a movement is first and foremost for political rather than psychological gains. And secondly the movement must represent a continuous process from generation to decline, rather than a discrete series of developmental stages.
In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the United States was embroiled in an atmosphere of constant change on both the political and social stage. It was at this time that the issue of police brutality of blacks became an issue that caused many blacks to be deeply concerned. This very issue became the rallying cry that fueled the Panther’s movement. With this issue and a stance against police brutality the Panther’s called upon all Blacks to use their Constitutional rights to arm themselves in defense against the police.
The second idea the political process theory sets forth is the idea that a movement’s emergence and decline must be a somewhat continuous series of events. In the Black Panther’s case, their emergence was brought on by events that effected the black population, a somewhat powerless group at the time. The Panthers set out to educate blacks of their rights, and more importantly, their right to defend themselves. This quote from the notes is an example of the political process theory at work in the emergence stage. “The range of collective action open to a relatively powerless group is normally very small. Its program, its form of action, its very existence is likely to be illegal, hence subject to violent repression. As a consequence, such a group chooses between taking actions which have a high probability of bringing on a violent response (but which have some chance of reaching the group’s goals) and taking no action at all (thereby assuring the defeat of the groups goals)(C Tilly, L Tilly, 1975,283).” As the Black Panthers found out, although groups such as their own possess the capacity to exert political leverage, sometimes the force of environmental constraints inhibit action.
One final important aspect of the political process theory that ties into the Black Panther movement is Marxism. ‘ The political process theory is more compatible with a Marxist interpretation of power. Marxism acknowledges that the power is disproportionate between the elite and the excluded group, but hardly regard this state of affairs as inevitable (McAdams, notes).’ The Panthers felt that the people should collectively decide upon exactly what they need and then share fully in the wealth they produce. They believed that the ultimate form of capitalism, in which a small group of men held all the power and with it enslaved men simply for profit, existed in America. They hoped to transform an oppressive capitalistic society into a socialistic society in which each man would participate in the decisions that affect his life, thus making him free. They proposed steps that would lead to the creation of this socialistic society. The Black Panther Party believed that in order for ethnic minorities to be free, administrators would be needed who were responsive to the needs and desires of the people. They were particularly interested in oppressed peoples’ struggle for freedom.
In conclusion we must begin to look at how we would apply all this information if we would need to do some sort of sociological research concerning the political process theory and the Black Panther Party movement. The first step would be to break the movement down into several parts: emergence, goals, and tactics. Once we have established these three areas we can begin to ask questions. Questions such as: What kind of person is a part of such a movement? What do they intend on getting out of this? How far are they willing to go for the cause? Questions such as these will help us to not only see how strong group cohesiveness is, but perhaps also begin to break down possible personality traits that are similar among participants in such a movement.