“Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.” – Mao Zedong
It’s (s)election season again in the United States Of America… Every four years when it comes time for the US to choose a president i’m reminded of Malcolm X infamous speech The Ballot Or The Bullet. The speech is a recognized as being the the 7th best American speech given in the 20th century. The power of that speech comes from it’s analysis of the modern American political system and in a way it’s a kind of bench mark in terms of how much progress (if any) has been made in American politics. But there never seems to be any real meaningful forward progress in American politics… and Malcolm’s speech made in Cleveland Ohio on April 3rd of 1964 is a reminder of just how much American politics hasn’t really changed.
Malcolm’s speech was delivered a year after the famous 1963 march on Washington DC in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. That was a high water mark for the Civil Rights movement and yet with all it’s hope and promise of change, with all it’s generational upheaval and force of will very little had changed a year later in 1964 for Black people in America. In much the same way that Barak Hussein Obama was elected president in 2008 with all it’s hope and promise of change, with all it’s generational upheaval and force of will, not much has changed for Black people or for anyone else in 2012. And so Malcolm’s speech of 1964 has a haunting and prophetic relevance because the politics of America doesn’t change.
If you listen to Malcolm’s speech and replace the reference of Black people with the 99% you’ll see that the keen empirical and analytical analysis Malcolm makes of the American political system in 1964 is completely applicable in 2012. Why? Because the American political system is not designed to change in a way that benefits those who need it to change most. It’s not designed to respond to the demands of the people who are clamoring for it. History has born this out… from the abolition of slavery, to the suffrage movement, to labor rights, to the civil rights to gay rights and immigration reform, change has been achingly slow in this country. Change may be inevitable but in this country it’s not about stopping change as much as it is about slowing it down to a glacial pace.
Please don’t mistake this as some anti-Obama rhetoric, this goes beyond Obama… Obama is one man within a system… A system that was designed for self preservation no matter who was the president and what kind of change they might want to bring… Obama inherited an abysmal situation, but it’s a situation that’s been politically designed to be nothing else but a tragedy… The global financial collapse of 2007 – 2008 was created by the American political system. The so-called “rescue” of that financial system, on the part of that very same American political system, was only concerned with the financial institutions that the political class has always been beholden to in contrast to the people who elect them.
There has been recent pressure brought to bear on this American political system for a more rapid and radical change in the form of the occupy movements which by and large are rejecting these outmoded forms of political representation. That message though, seems to have fallen on ears that refuse to hear, eyes that refuse to see, minds that refuse to reason, and hearts that refuse to feel when in comes to the two major political parties. The occupy movement seems to have awoken people to the idea that the two major parties are dictating what the issues are from a top down position as opposed to a bottom up approach. This may be the reason why the two major parties have stayed away from the occupy movement, the threat of real democracy looms large within the occupy movement.
What Malcolm was trying to get at in The Ballot Or The Bullet, was that if we can’t get what we want by the ballot then we’ll have to get it by the bullet. If the political system that claims to represent you fails to do so then the only option left is revolution… The Ballot in Malcolm’s speech is of course, the status quo, the Bullet is the revolution. Revolutions are bloody as Malcolm points out but he closes his speech by saying that America has an opportunity to create a bloodless revolution… That bloodless revolution can only happen when the paradigm shifts and those at the bottom dictates the direction and speed of the change that need to happen. The form that our “Bullet” may take in this revolution may take on a less literal form in order to create this bloodless revolution, but make no mistake, whatever form it takes it must be in the end as affective as a bullet…
You can hear Malcolm’s brilliant speech here…
You can get a T-shirt or 1″ Button of the image Ballots Or Bullets Revolver X at my design company Audio Visual Terrorism. Between the Emma Goldman quote and the Malcolm X quote the design reflects my thoughts on the American electoral process…