When Luis Garden Acosta starts talking about a subject he believes in—something he really believes in—he stares off into space, like he’s navigating a planet of issues in his head, trying to chisel abstract notions of justice into words. Sitting, swaddled in an untucked off-white shirt next to his teardrop Panama hat, he rocks back and forth in small bursts, squinting his small eyes and taking his time with his words.
When the question of an Obama presidency comes up, he delves deeper into his own world. Now in his 60’s, he remembers the highs and lows of the Kennedy years, the protests lead by the Berrigan brothers, the outreach of the Clinton administration to the Latino community. And, to feed the cliche, he has hope that if Obama is elected president, he could act as a bromide for the the Bush presidency.
At equal turns elegant and loquacious, he begins to tick off what he sees as the sins of last eight years: the Iraq war, Guantanamo Bay, secret prisons in Eastern Europe, a maladroit Supreme Court. But he turns to a platitude that leads him to believe in a potential President Barack Obama.
“No hay un mal que por bien no venga,” he said in his office, struggling for a proper translation of the aphorism.
He smiles, finally gripping the English words. “There is no evil that good can’t come out of,” he said.
Acosta is one of New York’s 281 delegates who will vote at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on August 25. Once a firm Hillary Clinton supporter, he said he is prepared to cast his vote for Obama when he arrives in Denver. As the founder and president of the El Puente (“The Bridge”) school in South Williamsburg, he infuses his work with the lessons from the social justice movements throughout the world. He has demonstrated for, and won, shutting down a 55-story incinerator in Williamsburg, and is currently working to to dispose of the Radiac Research Corporation, a radioactive waste treatment facility.
But even for a New York power broker, Acosta had to take his time before deciding to become a delegate for Clinton. He was asked by Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez to run as a delegate for former First Lady, but his own association with the El Puente school and Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war set him ill at ease.
“I very honestly admire her leadership, but I was taken aback by her vote on the war. It’s tough when you like and support someone, but you really react when you think they know better,” he said.
“So I had to think about it. I had to consult with the leadership of United for Peace and Justice, the Young Lords, and El Puente. At the end of the day I realized Clinton was wanting of our support.”
But now that Clinton has ceded her bid for the Presidency, Acosta said he is “absolutely excited” to cast his vote for Obama. “He’s worthy of our work, worthy of the kind of unity forged for America to be the country we all dreamed of.”
This is not Acosta’s first foray into Presidential politics. He founded Latinos For Jesse Jackson in 1988, and has met with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to discuss issues in the Latino community.
But Acosta, ever the campaigner for Latino causes, maintains that the Latino community is more complex than a series of ethnically tinged talking points. “I don’t know where pundits get this idea that Latinos don’t vote for African-Americans,” he said. “It’s so against the facts of our voting history in this country,” referring to Reverend Jackson’s two presidential runs, Obama’s run for Senate in Illinois, and other black politicians whom pundits say spark racial tension in Latino areas.
As it turns out, Acosta has his sights set on the larger framework of the country. “When history talks about the story of the Supreme Court coup d’etat, they will ask, ‘where was the American conscience?’ The evil that was unleashed by this Supreme Court coup will take many years to repair.”
But Obama, Acosta said, is handy enough for the job. “I love his humility, because when he first ran he got zonked. He’s so clear about how you can pick yourself back up again.”