Mohammad Ali, Presente!
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2016
by Dianne Mathiowetz
I am deviating from the usual format today to offer some words in a tribute to the great Mohammad Ali whose death is being mourned across the globe.
Already there are hours of television specials and newspaper reports; the internet is filled with pictures and stories; all kinds of famous people have commented on him.
And most of those accounts have included his bold words when refusing the draft in 1967.
They bear repeating.
He starts by making it clear, he is defying the law by saying “I ain’t draft dodging… I am staying right here. You want to send me to jail? I’ve been in jail for 400 years.
I ain’t going 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, fighting you.
You’re my enemy, you’re my oppressor when I want freedom, you’re my opposer when I want justice.”
Ali had grown up under the vicious Jim Crow segregation that regulated and restricted Black people’s lives in Louisville, KY and throughout the South and the white supremacist ideology that permeated US society.
As 18 year-old Cassius Clay, he burst onto the world stage like a comet in 1960 when he won an Olympic gold medal in boxing. But despite his fame, he was denied a table at a Louisville restaurant when he returned home.
His conversion to Islam in1964 and taking the name Mohammad Ali made world news and reflected the massive change in consciousness taking place among oppressed people in the US but in anti-colonial movements worldwide
In a sign of the animus of the establishment, The New York Times official policy continued to refer to him in print as Cassius Clay, what he called his “slave name,” until 1970.
Ali’s refusal to join the US military in its criminal war in Vietnam cost him his boxing title and his livelihood. He also faced five years in prison.
During those years, he traveled the country, speaking out against the war. His phone was tapped like MLK’s and Malcolm X and so many others.
His conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1971, and Ali achieved the unthinkable by regaining his title. His bout with Jerry Quarry here in Atlanta was celebrated by many who felt it in their bones that he had “beat the Man, the system.”
While many of his famous quotes have been repeated and repeated, the ones extolling his prowess, humor, beauty and his ability to rhyme, little attention has been paid to his statements in solidarity with rebelling prisoners in Attica, his denunciations of poverty, police brutality, his continued opposition to war.
What has made Mohammad Ali so revered and respected around the world is that his solidarity with those fighting imperialism, racism and injustice never faltered, not when he was being acclaimed and toasted by the powers that be, not when he was being scorned, under surveillance by the state, and not when he was battling a devastating disease.
Ali broke the mold – he visited Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and stated his solidarity with their struggle against Zionism and occupation. He traveled to Cuba, South Africa, Iraq, so, so may places, targeted by aggressive and hostile US policy, not only meeting with leaders but always spending time with the people, with children.
I personally clearly remember the impact of the young Mohammad Ali, proudly declaring his refusal to fight in Vietnam and kill people who were fighting for their freedom as a turning point in my own life.
Mohammad Ali, Presente!