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In 1964, civil rights leader Malcolm X, a month after publicly breaking away from the Nation of Islam, gave a speech about the significance of blacks understanding the power of their vote.

“It’s time now for you and me to become more politically mature and realize what the ballot is for; what we’re supposed to get when we cast a ballot; and that if we don’t cast a ballot, it’s going to end up in a situation where we’re going to have to cast a bullet. It’s either a ballot or a bullet,” Malcolm X said in Cleveland.

The “Ballot or the Bullet” speech was laced with anger, frustration, disappointment and deep skepticism about which political party in America truly represents the interest of the black community. Malcolm lamented about that blacks continue to be the victims of a bait and switch politics at the hands of white liberals. Calling for a change, he urged black voters to wake up and realize the power that lies in the ballot box.

In 2018, no other place better exemplifies the dangerous voter apathy that Malcolm warned against than Detroit. A majority black and largest Democratic base in the state, the city remains notorious for low voter turnout in elections.

For example, during the last mayoral election, only about 18 percent of the city’s 470,000 registered voters saw itfit to come out and decide who would lead them for the next four years.

Already, an earlier projection for Tuesday’s primary election is showing that absentee voting is increasing everywhere else in the state but low in Detroit.

But Malcolm could also have been speaking to our current major political parties – Democrat and Republican – whose policies are often at odds with the interest of the African-American community.

His message was simple: Be engaged in the process and be smart about who you are voting for.

That is why the election this fall should be another litmus test for whether Detroiters will continue to undermine their own political power and underrepresent their interest by not voting.

It is not enough to complain and call for a boycott of politicians accused of pushing policies that are inimical to the well-being of African-Americans, if the protesters themselves are not heavily invested in getting out the vote to replace those same elected officials.

It is not enough to raise your fist in a political frenzy as a symbol of black power and solidarity if you are failing to exercise the power of the ballot and not showing up at the polls.

You can’t rail against the political system and why you believe it shortchanges black lives if you are not participating in the democratic process to determine who oversees the system to ensure that black lives matter.

No amount of activism, prognostication and fist-bumping is more significant than simply casting a vote to decide who will speak to your issues.

More than 50 years after Malcolm X gave that consequential speech, his words ring true in a city that time and time again has failed to fully exercise the right to vote to ensure good governance.

“The black man in the black community has to be re-educated into the science of politics so he will know what politics is supposed to bring him in return,” Malcolm X said. “Don’t be throwing out any ballots. A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target.”

The civil rights leader is right. We need a re-education in Detroit about why it matters to vote. Some studies have suggested that those who shape policy in government are more prone to respond to the needs and concerns of residents who live in communities that are high voter turnout areas.

It makes sense because when elected officials fail to deliver in high voter turnout districts, the expectation is that the residents themselves can vote them out the next election cycle.

Detroit should not be the exception in demanding political accountability in good governance and ensuring that the interests of its people are served by those asking for their vote.

But the only way to do so is by affirming what Malcolm X said. It’s the ballot or the bullet this year.

Make no mistake about it. The stakes in this election are too high. If you don’t feel it is significant enough to vote, then you shouldn’t be complaining about the problems you are facing in the city or anywhere else in the state for that matter.

Don’t give in to apathy. Your voice counts.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.

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