“You’re the one who put the present day Democratic administration in Washington, D.C…When you see this, you see that the Negro vote is the key factor. They’ve been down there four years. All other legislation they wanted to bring up, they’ve brought it up and gotten it out of the way, and now they bring up you. You put them first, and they put you last.”
Malcolm X delivered these words in the speech we know as “Ballot or the Bullet” on April 12, 1964, in Detroit. In this speech, he encouraged African-Americans to become politically mature and politically conscious. His words are as persuasive now as they were then. I implore not only the African-American community, but also any individual who is skeptical about voting to become politically conscious.
Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African-Americans did not always have the luxury to hold politicians accountable for campaign promises they failed to deliver. Now that we have the freedom of speech and right to peaceably assemble without the fear of repercussions, there is no reason for any person to remain politically inactive. As Kerry Washington said in her speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, “You may not be thinking about politics, but politics is thinking about you.”
This has been true since the founding of this country.
Politics was thinking about us when our ancestors were considered three-fifths of a person. Politics was thinking about us in the Civil War. Politics was thinking about us when southern states required African-Americans to guess how many jelly beans were in a jar, to pay poll taxes and pass literacy tests to vote.
A smile stumbles across my face and a “yes” leaves my lips when I see young African-Americans politically involved. It is our duty to challenge politicians to tackle the issues that are important to us. We must impart to them that a vote for them is a vote for progress.
If you want to see an example of what voting can cause, look at Congress. There is not a single African-American in the Senate. President Barack Obama was the last elected African-American in the Senate. To date, only six African-Americans have served in the chamber.
There are too many decisions being made on your behalf. Who do you want to represent you? Who would decide for you?