"The Ballot or the Bullet," a famous civil rights speech delivered by Malcolm X in 1964, advocates for increased political participation on the part of African-Americans, in the context of the ongoing struggle to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the upcoming congressional and presidential election. In the speech, Malcolm X pushes for unification among the black community, regardless of social or religious affiliation. He argues that such unity has the ability to affect radical change, whether by effective use of democratic processes (the ballot) or by force (the bullet).
The speech emphasizes the necessity for the economic, social, and political philosophies of black nationalism. It is only through the economic support of black-owned and -operated businesses that African-American communities will grow and flourish, Malcolm X claims. Feeding money back into the community promotes the self-sufficiency of African-Americans, allowing them to break free from the white supremacy's stranglehold on the economy. Ideally, this continued support will eventually result in the establishment of self-governed localities.
Malcolm X contends that the Democratic Party has broken its promise to successfully push through important civil rights legislation, most notably the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Though the Democrats blame this on the Dixiecrats (southern segregationist Democrats), Malcolm X says that both are at fault. Further, he argues that there is no difference between the Democrats and Dixiecrats, except that one is engaged in overt discrimination and the other covertly manipulates the democratic process through gerrymandering, thus rendering the black vote useless.
Democrats may try to pass the buck off to Dixiecrats, but the two are actually in cahoots together. America's political machine is stacked against African-Americans; neither the Democratic nor the Republication party is actively interested in promoting equality, and in fact, constituents from both are working to block civil rights legislation. By voting as a unified group, African-Americans stand a chance in electing officials who actually have their interests at heart.
Should this use of the democratic process fail to produce the desired results, Malcolm X argues that the fight for equality may necessitate a racial revolution. He is opposed to the peaceful protest approach taken by leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., believing it to be ineffective and disempowering. There has never been a successful non-violent revolution, he says, not even in Hollywood.
Malcolm X says that it is time for the civil rights struggle to be considered a human rights issue and treated as such. He proposes taking the issue to the United Nations and trying America in the International Court of Justice for human rights violations and genocide.
At the speech's conclusion, Malcolm X encourages African-Americans to join and take part in only organizations that bolster racial uplift. This is key, he says, in changing the black community's mindset.