Cathy Rojas is NYC’s socialist alternative for mayor

Peoples Dispatch spoke to the socialist candidate for the upcoming New York City mayoral election, Cathy Rojas, about the significance of a people-driven campaign in a largely corporate-driven electoral process and why alternatives are important for people’s movements

October 31, 2021 by Anish R M
Cathy Rojas, candidate for Party for Socialism and Liberation, speaking at a New York City rally for reproductive rights held on October 2. Photo: Rojas for NYC Mayor/Twitter

The largest city in the United States, New York City, will be electing a new mayor on Tuesday November 2. The Democratic Party candidate, Eric Adams, is expected to secure an easy victory, by default of the influence the party continues to hold in the city. A retired police officer and self-proclaimed centrist, Adams was nominated as a Democratic candidate, after winning over his nearest rival, Kathryn Garcia, in a closely contested party primary by a margin of less than 0.8%.

In a post-George Floyd US, the nomination of someone like Adams with a “tough on crime” attitude is seen as a failure of the progressive Democrats to make a mark this time around. Adams’ campaign opposes meaningful police reforms and the much-demanded defunding of the police even though it costs the city upwards of USD 6 billion, often at the cost of crucial social services.

Despite Adams’ nomination, a socialist candidate in the race is fighting to push through a progressive agenda that the mainstream discourse is trying very hard to undermine.

Cathy Rojas is the candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and her platform stands on three crucial promises: tax the rich, jobs and housing for all, and defund the police. With the slogan “A city for all, not the rich”, the unapologetically socialist nature of the campaign is quite evident.

“Only a socialist system, a system in which working and poor people hold economic and political power, can prevent these public health and economic disasters where over 31,000 New Yorkers died, 1 million lost their jobs and 200,000 face potential evictions,” her campaign statement read when describing the socioeconomic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to Peoples Dispatch, Rojas declared that “we are very proud to be a completely grassroots, worker funded, independent national political party.”

The campaign is at a big disadvantage as it has to function within the limitations of the strictly two-party system. But even as the Rojas camp understands the massive corporate-funded campaigns that drive both the Democratic and Republican Party that they are standing up to, there is no sign of dejection from them.

“We don’t stand a chance at the moment in competing with the corporate money pouring into the mainstream candidates’ bank accounts,” Rojas told Peoples Dispatch, “but the money we have been able to raise has been inspiring and because our members come from the working class we know how to make a dollar stretch.”

“We do not have the millions of dollars in corporate backing of the real estate and business class of NYC, like Eric Adams, but our campaign hopefully serves to show our class that we don’t have to be limited to organizing in the mainstream parties,” she added.

Rojas insisted that the campaign’s purpose is to show that an election campaign driven entirely on people’s support is both possible and necessary. “We can run professional, militant and viable candidates that solely run on the power of our class,” said Rojas. “There’s so much organizing and movement building happening outside of the two-party system that we really have to look beyond this and see what’s in motion in our neighborhoods.”

Rojas explained, “Our goal is to amplify what our people are fighting for on the ground with a political program that can unite all of us.”

Over the past few months, the Rojas campaign has managed to create an alternative platform in the upcoming election, as disillusionment rises among progressive groups with the Democratic Party and also the voters in the city.

Crediting the volunteers and members of the PSL and the campaign for the outreach, Rojas noted that they have “taken this campaign to places and people we didn’t think were possible and it has truly shown to me the power of what ‘regular folks’ with a passion for a just and fair world can do when they are organized.”

Several social activists fighting police violence and gentrification, along with families of the victims of police violence both within and outside New York, have come out to support Rojas.

The campaign has also received endorsement from the Bronx Green Party and also from the progressive Democrats like state senator Julia Salazar and New York City’s 9th City Council District candidate Kristin Richardson Jordan, and trade unionist Evangeline Byars.

“The relationships that we have built with other openly socialist and pro-working class candidates such as Evangeline Byars, Kristin Richardson Jordan, and Julia Salazar will strengthen our ties to New York workers for decades to come and popularize our socialist ideas,” Rojas said of the new ties made.

The significance of such a campaign in a city like New York can not be emphasized enough, especially as the US enters a stage of new forms of mobilization against state violence, imperialist wars, and workers’ exploitation. Even as the Rojas camp are expecting voters to show their support in the ballot, they also added that election day “is just another day of struggle” for them.

“Our campaign’s purpose is to give these movements, whether it’s the striking factory worker or the neighborhood teens fighting against police brutality, another avenue to fight back against these injustices,” insisted Rojas.

“Unlike the typical politicians, who want us to place all our energy into their election, we instead encourage people to stay in the streets and on the picket line beyond November 2nd (election day). We know real power doesn’t live in the voting booths, real power and real change lives in the organized collective action of people in the streets.”

“Our campaign is in the streets, we are on those picket lines, we are at those rallies, we organize in our workplaces but now we also have something we can add to the movement which is the ability to point to a candidate and say that is the platform we are for.”