“By ballot I only mean freedom. Don’t you know — I disagree with Lomax on this issue — that the ballot is more important than the dollar? Can I prove it? Yes. Look in the UN. There are poor nations in the UN; yet those poor nations can get together with their voting power and keep the rich nations from making a move. They have one nation — one vote, everyone has an equal vote. And when those brothers from Asia, and Africa and the darker parts of this earth get together, their voting power is sufficient to hold Sam in check. Or Russia in check. Or some other section of the earth in check. So, the ballot is most important.” – Malcolm X, The Ballot or The Bullet, April 3, 1964
Before I was even of age to vote, my dad taught me the importance for standing up for what I believe in and making sure my voice was heard with the power of voting. When I turned 18, he took me to register to vote and reminded me that, when he was a little boy, my grandparents pinched and saved their money so that each would be able to pay a poll tax in order to vote. I pride myself in having the ability to freely vote regardless of my race or gender.
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in 1964, Malcolm X, an influential Muslim minister and advocate for equal rights for African Americans “by any mean necessary”, made one of his most famous speeches entitled The Ballot or The Bullet. Forty-four years later, and also during an election year, the New York Hip-Hop group A-Alikes, while documenting the recording of their album, sat down with influential figures in the music, entertainment and grass roots community to seek out the current relevance of Malcolm X’s speech. The Ballot or The Bullet, directed by Paul Biedrzycki, takes an in depth look at the economic and social issues in the minority communities by posing the question “How do oppressed people gain freedom? Is it through participation in the political system or through armed rebellion?”
The members of The A-Alikes, K and Ness, passionately express their distrust and frustrations with the government through their music as well as their personal commentary and action not to vote during the 2008 Presidential Election. They fail to present a counter solution to not voting that would empower change in their community, to offer a balance to their point-of-view. What the film successfully achieves is an open dialogue, about the 2008 Elections and what it means for minorities, with individuals such as socially conscious Hip-Hip artists Immortal Technique and Public Enemy’s Chuck D, actress/model Joy Bryant, grass roots organizer and activist Rosa Clemente, and Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz.
One of the great things about Malcolm X, when he spoke, he had the ability to uplift and empower his audience to take responsibility and to take action. Without profanity, he was able to articulate the complaints of the Black community during his time. He encouraged his audience to take back their community by getting “re-educated into the science of politics so he will know what politics is supposed to bring him in return. Don’t be throwing out any ballots. A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.” (Malcolm X, The Ballot or the Bullet, April 3, 1964).
Excerpts from Malcolm X’s actual speech (see below) are throughout this film, but for those not familiar with him, you will not have a clear picture of who he was or what his words mean out of the context of the full speech in order to clearly understand all point-of-views. Before and after seeing the film The Ballot or The Bullet, I encourage you to do a little research.
Malcolm X – Ballot or Bullet