A crowd gathered in front of the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem on June 28 listening intently and cheering as socialist candidate Cathy Rojas officially announced her campaign for mayor of New York City. Rojas is a Queens native, daughter of Colombian immigrants, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), and currently works as a public high school teacher in Elmhurst. New Yorkers will have an opportunity to vote for her as the only openly socialist candidate on the ballot this coming November.
The First Spanish United Methodist Church is well known in Harlem for its historic role in radical organizing. In 1969, the Young Lords, a revolutionary socialist organization that fought for the liberation of Puerto Ricans and all oppressed people in the U.S. and abroad, occupied the church for 11 days. They renamed it the People’s Church and used it as a site to set up free breakfast programs for children, educational programs, tuberculosis testing, and other community services. According to Rojas, she and her campaign chose the church to announce their mayoral campaign in order to honor the legacy of the Young Lords.
“The Young Lords had a 13-point program that laid out their demands,” Rojas explained, “Points that called for the right of people to control their labor, that called for freedom for political prisoners, that called for community control of our institutions like transportation and our land. Point 13 said: ‘We want a socialist society. We want liberation, clothing, free food, education, health care, transportation, utilities, and employment for all. We want a society where the needs of our people come first, and where we give solidarity and aid to the peoples of the world, not oppression and racism.’ I start here [at the People’s Church] because in order to know how to fight, we have to know where we’re going.”
‘Cathy is a people’s leader by every sense of the word ’
As Kerbie Joseph, a long-time community organizer with the PSL, introduced Rojas to the crowd, she described the litany of issues facing working class New Yorkers in light of the pandemic that capitalism has failed to solve and only socialism could address: the 950,000 reported cases of COVID last year in the city and 33,000 deaths of mostly poor Black and brown people from the virus, teachers’ demands for school safety that Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter ignored, and the wealthy fleeing the city at the beginning of the pandemic while residents who stayed entered a housing crisis.
Joseph also reminded the crowd that New York City saw a record number of 631,000 jobs lost during the pandemic at the same time as a police hiring surge. And while Mayor de Blasio pledged last year to defund the NYPD and cut $1 billion from its budget, he has since reversed course and spent over a hundred million dollars for a new precinct.
Joseph explained that the city’s leadership had not addressed the vast nature of this crisis, and working people needed a mayor who would protect their interests over profit. “We need somebody that will stand by the interests of poor working class people,” she began. “We need real leaders. Leaders look out for the collective. Leaders look out for the lifeline of their city — that’s us, poor working class workers that make this city function each and every day…We need a new leader, a real leader, and that leader is Cathy Rojas…We need a comrade in a position to shift the culture and the political landscape in this city…Cathy is a people’s leader by every sense of the word.”
Speaking in both English and Spanish, Rojas addressed the crowd and reiterated demands to defund the NYPD budget, especially after last summer’s historic uprising against police brutality. “Are the police truly the best ones to handle escalating violence?” she asked. “Let’s defund the police because, yes, it is an institution rooted in white supremacy — but also let’s defund it because it has proven to be ineffective at keeping New Yorkers safe!”
“A study from 2017 showed us that violence interruption led to 63 percent reduction in shootings and 37 percent reduction in gun injuries in South Bronx, and 50 percent reduction in gun injuries in East New York. That’s a whole lot better than NYPD’s 2 percent!” Rojas continued, “Let’s invest in what works! Community-based violence intervention programs make a difference and have been underfunded for decades. Organizations composed of former gang members and long-time community organizers have been interrupting violence and mentoring young people in healthy ways for years. We must meaningfully fund these initiatives that work!…What we need is to unite all of our movements for justice into one movement for the socialist reorganization of society!”
New Yorkers eager for a socialist candidate
Attendees also shared their readiness for a socialist candidate. Among them was Saundrea I. Coleman, host of the 1NYCHA podcast and activist and co-founder of Holmes-Isaacs Coalition. She predicted that with Eric Adams, a former cop who has accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from the real estate lobby throughout his political career, looking like the likely winner of the Democratic primary, many people would be seeking another option for the November general election. “[Rojas] can be our option for people who don’t like the Democratic candidate…She’s going to make traction…I believe people are ready.”
“I’m putting all my money on Cathy and voting for her because we need a change,” pointed out Michaela, a Harlem resident and activist who works in community outreach at a vaccine site. “Change isn’t going to come with this administration because its members are busy scapegoating each other. It’s something they’ve historically done.” She contrasted this to Rojas, “a New York City teacher from the working class, who won’t compromise for payouts.”
For more information on the Rojas mayoral campaign, visit rojas4mayor.nyc.
Rojas’s 14-point platform:
- Tax the rich
- Provide jobs for all and small business relief
- Defund the police and end police brutality
- Cancel all rents and mortgages
- Guarantee quality housing for all
- Upgrade and protect NYC Housing Authority
- Make the MTA free and public
- Fund quality public education
- End mass incarceration and cash bail
- Expand health care access across the city
- Make NYC environmentally sustainable
- Full equality for women and LGBTQIA+ people
- Full rights for all immigrants
- Stand with all oppressed people fighting against colonialism, imperialism and state repression