al_calloway_web.jpgA leader is anyone who is elected, appointed or anointed to head a constituency, organization or group, “a person followed by others” says the Oxford American Dictionary of Current English. So when Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984 and 1988, significant numbers of black voters supported him all the way to the Democratic Party conventions.

In the final analysis, though, Jesse cut deals and he and his family became very wealthy and he was positioned to “assist” a few friends, as well. However, the flock that followed Jesse, the stupendous number of black voters who projected him, got catharsis but no access to power — political or economic resources.

Similarly, and yet with a different twist, the same phenomenon occurred with then candidate and now President Barack Obama. Throughout his campaign, Obama insisted that leaders from block associations up to and including elected officials must organize their people as the means to exact pressure on American political and economic power — the status quo.

Over and over, for months, candidate Obama exhorted that organization is from the bottom up, not from the top down, in different venues across America. President Obama’s first disappointment had to have been after millions of people, especially blacks, who stood hours in freezing weather to witness his inauguration, went home and did absolutely nothing.

And, in three years since, most people have never once uttered the Obama dictum and, until “Occupy Wall Street,” no organizing has taken place. Still, black leaders of every stripe appear fearful of white people, be they Democrat or Republican.

Black leaders seem frozen in time, unable to calculate what a lack of support from white Democrats means. They have also not strategically responded to attacks on civil rights' sacred cows from a conservative movement exploding in confidence.

On the one hand, Jesse leads his flock over a political cliff that he sidesteps. On the other hand, President Obama enters the White House and, instead of organizing as he had asked, supporters, especially blacks, waited for him to be their Moses. President Obama never once led anyone to believe that he is a personification of Moses.

Can social change come about without organization and access? Does social change just happen, just fall down from the sky and in place? In Western theology, is it not God who gives humankind the power to effectuate positive or negative social change through free will? So, where positive social change is not occurring has everything to do with the human condition, period.

Black leaders tend to ignore any organization that takes the focus of attention off them and, since black people are basically religious and mostly Christian, as a group their sense of organization stems from the church experience, irrespective of education and any other status.

That may be why black leaders ignore the politics of access. It is a form of organization that is mostly secular in nature. Politics is defined as “the art and science of government.” Political organizing is to specifically affect status and authority. Access is defined as “a way of approaching or reaching or entering.”

The politics of access, then, is about organizing from neighborhood associations through political precincts and municipal, county, state and congressional districts in order to exercise the right of black people (and all other people) to have equitable admittance to and use of any and all political and economic resources.

By exerting the politics of access through organizing from the bottom up, change will occur. Power to the people will be actuality, not merely a slogan. People power will supplant money power and create a driving force that truly democratizes America.

The world is waiting to see America produce true democracy. And true democracy is that which many in the world will follow. The politics of access can change people, neighborhoods, America and the world.

Al Calloway is a longtime journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the early 1960s civil rights struggle.

He may be reached at

Photo: Al Calloway