Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali as Social Justice Warrior

In the hours after most of us realized that Muhammad Ali had died, I was struck by how many people mentioned his social justice work--although they might not have seen it as social justice work. 

I'm thinking in particular about his stand against the Vietnam War, and how much of a personal sacrifice it was, in terms of lost titles and lost income.  From 1967 to 1970, he couldn't fight, and he made it clear that he refused to be drafted for intensely moral reasons, not just in a desire to save his life.  He said, "My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape or kill my mother and father.... How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail."

Ali's stance inspired many--some believe that his stand was responsible for Martin Luther King's shift on the war and gave him the courage to speak out against it, to set aside the worries of alienating the Johnson administration, who had made such gains in the Civil Rights arena.

I heard a clip of Bernie Sanders speaking and reminding us of Ali's Muslim beliefs, and I had a vision of Ali bringing us together in ecumenical solidarity in death--and of course, my hope would be that it would lead to more peace, more recognition of similarities, even in our differences--as he did throughout much of his life.

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