A NY Times reporter spent yesterday observing and experiencing the Reverend Al Sharpton's action rally at his National Action Network headquarters.

On most Saturdays, the so-called House of Justice on West 145th Street can feel as casual as the International House of Pancakes 10 blocks south. Anyone can walk in and take a seat. The words etched onto the large tinted window at the entrance, facing 145th Street, read not House of Justice or National Action Network but Diamond Gym, the storefront’s former occupant, which explains why the walls are lined with mirrors.

Yesterday, in a fast-paced 90 minutes before a crowd of fewer than 100 people, Mr. Sharpton led a drummer and a pianist through a gospel song (“Sing it like you mean it,” he sang into the microphone), criticized the federal government’s slow pace of rebuilding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and paid tribute to the sacrifices of both Jesus Christ and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Reporter Manny Fernandez also notes that not only is Sharpton center stage, there's a "framed, close-up portrait of Mr. Sharpton" behind him, with a light shining on it.

It's fascinating how Sharpton has evolved from controversial figure - Tawana Brawley case, for one - to controversial figure with a lot of clout - Mayor Bloomberg made sure to have Sharpton by his side when he addressed the Sean Bell shooting. And the presidential contenders for the Democratic nomination would love to have his support. But at the heart of it, Sharpton still runs a grassroots organization, even though he may have hosted Saturday Night Live. The National Action Network was formed in 1991 and the rallies are broadcast on WLIB-AM (1190 AM).

Photograph of the National Action Network's headquarters when closed by Joe Schumacher on Flickr