There are so many Muhammad Alis: the otherworldly boxer, the impossibly handsome wordsmith, and of course the icon. These are the Alis we search for on YouTube. These are the Alis who fill us with joy. These are the Alis we want.
But at this perilous moment, this is not the Ali we need. The one we need is the resistance icon of the late 1960s and early 1970s--the internationalist and unwavering opponent of white supremacy. We need the Ali who fearlessly connected the war at home and the war abroad.
We need the Ali who, when attending a rally for fair housing in his hometown of Louisville, said, "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam, while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? ... I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years."
We need the Ali who, in the words of Bryant Gumbel, "refused to be afraid. And being that way, he gave other people courage." We need the Ali who was represented at his funeral in Louisville last June, in a memorial service that turned out to be his last act of resistance.
The service itself was open to the public and packed with more than 20,000 people. The people who connected with the crowd weren't the Senators and ex-Presidents. They were the firebrands. They were the people who spoke to Ali's rebel spirit. At this funeral we saw, reanimated, the Ali of the 1960s. What made him so electric was that he took a side and, to paraphrase the poet Sonia Sanchez, made dissent beautiful and fearless.
That is what we need today. This is not a time to figure out how to bring a broken country together. This is a time to take a side and resist. That's what Ali did. He didn't say bring together those who hate Vietnam and those who love it. He said that we need to fight for justice.
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