55 years this week since Ali refused the Vietnam draft. He did so knowing he faced the ruination of his career & the possibility of a long jail sentence. He recieved a four year suspension at the height of his physical prime, sacrificing much glory & untold millions to show solidarity with people whose names he didnt know but whose pain he could more than identify with.
Ali’s draft refusal was one of the great & emblematic acts of conscience of the 60s rebellion. Today’s left still draws much energy & instruction from this widespread & wide-ranging rebellion, of which there has been no equivalent since. Behind the growing anti-racist movement in world sport in 2021 lies the inspiration of Ali & other rebel sports people of the 60s.
Ali was a hugely popular figure not only in The US or among the black community, but was also a hero to many white working class people who admired his sportsmanship and his rebellious, conscientious nature.
He was a great unifier of the working & poor people of the world – where I grew up many loved him like a God, the same way they loved Elvis. Of course Elvis – drugaddled & under the malign influence of capitalist barbarians – supported the Vietnam war.
But what Presley & Ali had in common was they rose from the bottom to become something incredible.
They were roses sprouting from the mud & gave all the mudborn hope that they too could bloom into life like a glory sent from above, no matter where they had started out or what they had suffered.
That’s why workers & poor loved them both with such a justified passion.
I think today’s left could do with taking note of Ali’s uniting ability to appeal to all the oppressed & exploited. He never pitted one section against another. He never sought to blame other victims of capitalism for the structural oppression of his own people. Instead he reached out & he spoke from the heart, in plain & popular language.
Sure he was arrogant, but it was the kind of arrogance that uplifted those around him, not the look-down-your-nose kind.
One of Ali’s great-grandfather’s was Abe O’ Grady from Ennis, who fell in love with & married an African American Woman (can’t find a record of her name, apologies) after emigrating in the 1860s. He said he was proud of his part-Irish ancestry, & sure why wouldnt he be.
A few miles from Ennis lies the US Military base of Shannon Airport, which has been crucial to the US war machine post 9/11. It has played a role in the murder of untold numbers, & in the devastation of an entire region in the Middle East.
Should war break out between the US & any other major power, Shannon Airport & its adjacent town will be flattened within hours – killing many working people innocent of US war crimes.
I think we know how, at the height of his intelligence & influence, the anti-imperialist rebel Muhammed Ali would have thought of this.