Ballots or Bullets 2002
by Adisa Banjoko The Bishop of Hip Hop

Another election season is upon us. On April 3rd 1964, in Cleveland Ohio, Malcolm X aka Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz gave one of his most memorable speeches. "The Ballot or the Bullet" said in effect that the Black people in America had two options: To VOTE in the elections and be aggressive in controlling the economic and political decisions that happen in their community; Or, they must take to the streets and fight, a bloody revolution to get the justice they deserve.

In 2002, we can see that those listening to Malcolm X then, and really many of those listening to him now, clearly decided to do neither. The Hip Hop generation has abandoned the ballots and chosen to use the bullets on one another. Biggie and Pac are a testament to us missing that message. The rough waters between Suge and Snoop may prove to us again that our focus as young people is off base. We don't need any more brothers C-Walking. We need brothers P-walking. Walking to the POLLS to create a future for the young people in this nation.

At a time when young Black males have created another billion dollar industry- we are still a people almost totally void of focus. Never before in the history of this country has there been so many young Black people with the money, education and opportunity to do what's needed. Nevertheless, our neighborhoods are more run down than ever before. Our schools are the worst in the nation. Our families are in shambles, and steady crumbling. Our people are dying of AIDS in numbers that shake the soul of anyone paying attention to the reality of the NOW.

Meanwhile, our Latino, Arab, Muslim and Asian brothers and sisters are catching their own hell. Some in very similar, and some in very different ways. But, if we don't vote, none of these things will be fixed.

NOW, is the time when we must decide to vote. But will we, really? Should we, really? Of course we should. If you are bothered by the weak economic policy of the Bush regime, you need to vote. If you are concerned about the reality of a WW III, you need to vote. Feeling scared about domestic terrorism? We'll guess what, playa, G, loc, ese? You need to vote!!

Recently I had the honor of being a presenter at the Harvard Hip Hop Archive ( ). It included many of America's best and brightest historians, like Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Dr. Zizwe Poe, political scientists and activists like Bakari Kitwana, Mariama White-Hammond and Boots, as well Hip Hop pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa and many other prolific thinkers.

One of the subjects of the day was the question of whether or not African American youth of today were MORE or LESS radical than the generations before it. Some professors suggested that there is a major difference between giving "woof tickets" and being out in the streets, or in the political debates creating change.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to catch a riveting documentary on the author of "Soledad Brother" George Jackson. It was called "Day of the Gun", you can see more about it at ( ). It outlined in detail the great racial and political conflicts the young Black people were having in those times. There were many other people of various creeds and races to assisted them in their efforts. But at the core, it was Black movement that inspired liberation of others along the way.

I realized at that time why they call what many young urban soldiers were doing, ACTIVISM. It's meant to change the way you ACT. In 1988 often referred to as the "Golden Age of Hip Hop" it was acceptable for rappers not to have answers for many of today's problems. Today that is not the case. Today's rappers have a duty to help create solutions, inside or outside of the establishment.

George Jackson, Fred Hampton, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur and many others sacrificed much to help free the minds bodies and souls of Black folk, and other folks around the world. Many of us today who call ourselves activists, would not be fit to hold George Jackson's picket sign. Others who chose not to be political mostly kill one another over "coasts", "sides", "sets" and other miscellaneous BS. All in the name of "keeping it real".

In 2002 need to do more than just say "F!@# the police." We cant just watch a "Spike Lee Joint" and sit back at the house feel extra Black and proud. We need to be the creators of solutions. If that means Hip Hop people have to go to the police departments to give "urban sensitivity training" as my brother Shamako Noble of Hip Hop Congress once suggested- so be it. But inaction is not acceptable.

We, as the Hip Hop community can sit around here and quote people from Malcolm X, to Chairman Mao, to Farrakhan, to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) till we are blue in the face. But no amount of dread locks, no super fresh silkscreen shirt of Malcolm X, no sporting of a skullcap and African garb will take the place of action in your community. Outside of pooling our money to rebuild our communities, (which we refuse to do) VOTING is the decision we can make to help ourselves.

We need to take ourselves, and our communities seriously. Black people have been used as an entertainment commodity for so long that we don't even value ourselves anymore. We think of ourselves as social and political junk--but in truth, we have been and always will be a beautiful, intelligent people. When united, sober minded and properly educated we are a force to be reckoned with. It is time our generation picks up the torch of justice seeking beyond songs- and manifest change. One of the things though is that a lot of the improvement that the ghetto needs does NOT take voting.

You need to pull the ballot box in your own brain and choose integrity over insanity. Make a vote for morality over malediction. You don't need a ballot box to stop calling Black women (all women for that matter) "bitches", "chicken heads" and "hoes". You don't need a ballot box to stop calling yourself and your friends "niggers" and "dogs". No ballot box is needed to respect your elders when you see them and speak to them in a courteous manner. You don't need a politician to go to Marcus Books and buy James Baldwin's "No Name in the Street" or Bakari Kitwana's "The Hip Hop Generation". Make the personal vote to do that, and all the other decisions on voting will come to focus.

I will not pretend that this political system is perfect. I will not pretend that all politicians, Black, White, Asian, Latino or whatever, really care about us. But there are some good people out there, who want to do the right thing. There are some propositions out there that will really affect our communities for decades to some. So we need to take these times seriously. We need to vote like our immediate lives and livelihood depend on it, because it does.

While being unafraid to confront those who would attack innocent Black people looking for justice, Malcolm was not a hater of white people. Nor did he hate any other people on the planet. He was a spiritual man; being clear to state "I am not a racist in any form whatever. I don't believe in any form of racism. I don't believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam." So it's important to remember that we not rule anyone one out as a political friend simply because they do not look like you.

I recently heard a speech where Shayk Hamza Yusef mentioned the Iroquois never made a decision unless they could see how it would affect their people seven generations down the line. That is a wonderful concept we should incorporate from our Native American brothers and sisters. Lets begin to think long term, but begin acting now. Otherwise, we won't be activists; we'll just be actors.

I encourage those serious about trying to define themselves politically and socially to give the speech a listen. You can hear "Ballots or Bullets" at . Take yourselves serious and take charge of the NOW, and responsibility for your future.

There's a time to take to the streets and protest. There's a time to do sit-ins and write letters. There's a time to vote. NOW, is the time to vote. If you're gonna be about politics, use all you can. Do not limit yourself to one way of exercising your political rights. It's ballots or bullets in 2002. What will you do? I dedicate this to Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz and all who have fought for the political freedom of the down trodden, wherever they are in this world.

Adisa Banjoko, "The Bishop of Hip Hop" is co-author to "Chicken Soup for the Hip Hop Soul". He can be reached at

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