On this week’s Past Present podcast, Niki, Neil, and Natalia debate the legacy of Muhammad Ali, the aftermath of the Brock Turner trial, and America’s first woman nominated to the presidency by a major party.
Muhammad Ali died last week at the age of 74. Natalia remarked on a life that was as notable for Ali’s political activism as it was for his athletic prowess. She also connected Ali’s story to Jane Fonda, another celebrity known for both her fitness empire and her controversial political activism during the Vietnam War. Neil commented on how Ali’s religious conversion to Nation of Islam was seen as one of his most radical acts. Niki commented American attitudes about the Nation of Islam had been shaped in part by the 1959 documentary The Hate that Hate Produced and by James Baldwin’s 1963 book The Fire Next Time that used the Nation of Islam as a foil to the Civil Rights Movement. Baldwin argued that America had to deal with the Civil Rights Movement or it risked having to deal with “the fire next time” from the Nation of Islam and black radicalism.
The sentencing of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of raping a woman, the just six months in jail has provoked tremendous outrage. Neil argued the case had generated so much response because of the powerful letter the victim read in the courtroom to her attacker and the entitled and appalling letter Brock’s father sent to the judge. Natalia commented on Stanford’s influence in the culture and politics of the Bay Area as relevant to the case, but also noted the school’s public statement on the crime. Niki argued the history of victim impact statements raised important questions about how we think about the law, emotions, and fairness in these cases. Neil observed the Supreme Court had taken conflicting views on victim impact statements, banning them in 1987 and then overturning that ruling in 1991. Niki saw the rise of victim impact statements as a response to the legal decisions of the 1960s that extended greater rights to the accused, including Gideon v. Wainright (1963) which required states to provide counsel in criminal cases to defendants who cannot pay for an attorney and Miranda v. Arizona (1966) which established Miranda rights. Natalia thought it was important to understand the Stanford case in the context of sexual violence cases, and recommended Estelle Freedman’s book Redefining Rape. Natalia also shared Freedman’s recent op-ed in the New York Times that showed how feminists used expanding legal rights for women to challenge judges who gave lenient sentencing in rape cases, a relevant historical context for understanding the movement to recall Aaron Persky, the judge in Brock Turner’s case.
First Woman Nominee
Hillary Clinton made history last week when she became the first woman to capture the presidential nomination of a major political party. Niki situated Clinton’s political career within a long history of American women and politics, starting with Abigail Adams’s 1776 letter that instructed her husband to “remember the ladies” as he worked to establish the new nation. Natalia cited Rebecca Traister’s recent New York magazine profile of Clinton which recounted a lifetime of overcoming gender barriers. Neil found Clinton’s victory speech remarkable for how much it focused on the history-making nature of her candidacy, something the campaign has generally downplayed in 2016.