Socialist Schoolteacher Cathy Rojas is Running for Mayor of New York City (2)

An interview with the candidate

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PSL’s NYC mayoral candidate Cathy Rojas campaigning on Aug. 29, 2021.

The second of two parts (First part)

We continue our interview this week with Cathy Rojas, 29, the mayoral candidate of the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL) in New York’s Nov. 2, 2021 election. She is the daughter of Colombian immigrants and a high-school social studies teacher in Queens, where she was born and raised. She obtained her undergraduate degree from SUNY/Albany and her masters degree from CUNY’s Hunter College. She is also pursuing an advanced certificate in bilingual education. She has been a political activist for 11 years, and a member of the PSL for almost five years.

Haïti Liberté: Your platform also calls to make the MTA’s subways and buses free. How would you do this when the MTA also falls under the purview of the New York state government?

Cathy Rojas: We are calling for there to be no charge to ride subways and buses because right now the MTA’s fares are basically a tax on the working class. When we call to tax the rich, we want to use their money to ensure that the MTA is fully funded, its infrastructure is in good shape, and it is free to working-class riders. We believe that a public transportation fare is a tax on working class people. Who needs workers to be transported? It’s the owners of corporations, the owners of businesses, the bosses. They need their workers to get to work, therefore they should be paying for the MTA. They should be paying for the infrastructure that is principally used by workers.

We know that the New York governor names the 21-member board, most of whose members are millionaires and live in the suburbs. We know that that could be changed. It could be made more democratic; workers could vote for who sits on that board. Once working people have control of that board, they will be able to ensure that, regardless of who is governor, they control the board, and we have a way to move forward. There may be other ways to get around the governor’s control, but what we want to ensure is that workers stop paying for transportation to work when it is the employers who should be paying.

HL: Democratic Party candidate Eric Adams has a huge political machine and the support of many city unions. How do you and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, under whose banner you’re running, plan to confront this Goliath, find its weak points, and win over working-class voters?

Cathy Rojas at a rally for DACA on Aug. 18, 2021. “Haitians, like the Colombians, are an immigrant people, and New York City is an immigrant city.”

CR: We are going to confront Eric Adams and the Democratic Party machine with people’s power, with the power of the people. We’ve been running this campaign solely on the power of volunteers and people who are disciplined and dedicated to rebuilding and transforming New York City for workers, who truly have the interests of workers in mind.

I think that during the COVID-19 crisis, we really saw how little these politicians care about us. They could have canceled rent and mortgages, but they chose not to in order to ensure that banks continued to make profits. They bailed out the banks in past crises, they bailed out the hotel industry, but they didn’t bail out our people. So I think that people are finally becoming conscious of what this government has in the forefront of their decision-making, and that’s the capital class. I think that people are ready for a change.

In our campaign, we’ve seen that people are really dedicated. They throw themselves into the work and are anxious to volunteer to upset Eric Adam, who does not defend their interests. They want our campaign make history. Every time we go out and talk to people about our campaign, we get more volunteers and more people who want to get involved in this movement for socialism in New York City.

HL: Colombian mercenaries assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on Jul. 7. As you are of Colombian heritage, what can you tell Haitians about Colombian mercenaries, and what does the Colombian immigrant community think about their countrymen being involved in this assassination?

CR: As Colombians we know that the Colombian military is the army most funded and trained by the U.S. government in Latin America. Not only does Washington fund the Colombian military, but they also fund the Colombian paramilitary death squads that are used throughout Colombia to protect the interests of U.S. corporations. These paramilitaries disappear union leaders and also human rights defenders, who are championing people as well as defending the waters that lands being stolen by different corporations.

We see how the U.S. government has tried to undermine the peace agreement between the Colombian government and [the guerilla army] the FARC so that they can continue to promote the destruction of the coca leaf using the U.S. corporation Monsanto’s Roundup, a vegetation killer which kills not only the coca leaf but also other crops of our farmers. And we know why that’s important to the U.S.. They want to continue to give Monsanto that huge contract, and they’d like Monsanto to extend its business and poisonous products into all of Colombian agriculture.

as a Colombian and a revolutionary, I hold Haitian history and the Haitian people in very high regard

Washington says it is there as part of a so-called “war on drugs” and to decrease drug trafficking. But ever since they got to Colombia, we’ve seen an increase in drug trafficking and an increase of all types of human rights crimes done by the military and paramilitaries who are funded and trained by them. So we know that the Colombian military and its mercenaries do not have in mind the interests of working-class people in Colombia or in any other country. But we know that it is defending the interests of the U.S. government and is a puppet of the U.S. government.

When it comes to Haiti, we need to look at how the Colombian military has behaved throughout the continent. Colombia has been referred to as the Israel of Latin America. The United States uses the Colombian military to fight its battles throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. We see that in Venezuela, where they’ve used the Colombian paramilitaries to try to overthrow the democratically elected government. I would not be surprised if Washington was also pushing the Colombian mercenaries to act in the interests of the United States in Haiti, in some way.

What is important for Haitians to know is that, especially after the national strike that began in Colombia in late April or early May 2021, we Colombians know, more than anyone else, how terrible our military can be. We saw how they were blatantly massacring youths in the streets, allowing paramilitary to shoot into crowds of protesters with no repercussions. We saw how they will defend capital and the capitalists at any cost, regardless of whose life they take.

What happened in Haiti simply points to the relationship of Colombian mercenaries to the United States, and it has no bearing on the Colombian people, because the Colombian people are in solidarity with Haiti and their fight against imperialism, which is exploiting our countries and killing our peoples across the globe. This fight is happening only in Haiti and Colombia, and we have to stick together and fight together.

HL: New York City has never had a socialist mayor if one doesn’t count David Dinkins, who was a candidate of both the Democratic Party and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Are you and your party, the PSL, prepared for the fierce attacks and sabotage the bourgeois political establishment and businesses will wage against you if you win this election?

CR: I think that our party is extremely well prepared. We have many experienced political cadre and a plethora off of dedicated workers from different areas of expertise and different jobs. We have people who work as accountants at banks, we have teachers, we have people from nonprofits, from the tech industry, and other sectors. We know that we’re well prepared to create solutions for working class people who have problems in New York City.

In terms of the ruling class’ attacks. Che Guevara said that a great revolutionary is motivated by a deep sense of love, and I think that all of the people in the PSL are led by their love for the people, for humanity, and for the planet. I think that no amount of hate and attacks could ever bring us down. When you do something with love, there’s no limit to what you can do. Whereas, when you do something simply for money, which is what motivates most politicians and capitalists, you only do things if the money is there. When the money runs out, they stop. So that’s what we have that they don’t have, and that’s why they can’t intimidate us.

HL: You are working as a teacher, while campaigning for mayor. Is that difficult?

CR: It’s extremely difficult. I work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then I have a puppy that I have to go home to take care of, and then I have to campaign. So it has been difficult. For me, it has meant 15 hour days. Usually I wake up at 5 a.m., and I don’t rest until maybe 10 p.m.. That’s what my day looks like; juggling my dog, my work, campaigning, interviews, and events that I have to attend. It’s a lot.

Because I work, we have run into barriers. For example, we were invited to take part in a mayoral debate, but they scheduled the debate during my work hours. We explained to the debate organizers that it’s classist to do that, and it bars working class people from participating in the mayoral debate, because we work! But they wouldn’t change the time, so I won’t be in that debate unfortunately.

But we continue to do the work that we can. Every day we show up and campaign, we continue powerfully, sharing our platform and sharing our vision for New York City. And I think that there is no working class New Yorker who can deny that our platform will benefit them. And yes, some days we’re tired, but, as I said before, there’s nothing that love won’t defeat. We can get tired, but our hearts are full from fighting and creating a socialist movement in New York City that is going to truly bring about changes that will benefit the people in our communities.

HL: Do you have a particular message for New York’s Haitian community as to why they should vote for Cathy Rojas?

CR: Yes. I think that Haitians, like the Colombians, are an immigrant people, and New York City is an immigrant city. It is important for the mayor of New York City to be anti-imperialist. Why? Because whatever happens in Haiti, in Colombia, in Puerto Rico, in the DR, in Brazil, or anywhere else, it affects many New Yorkers. Even though many of us may be living here, we may be new arrivals or the children of immigrants from other countries, so our hearts are still with the people in our home countries. So we need to ensure that we have a mayor that is not only going to advocate for New Yorkers, but who is also going to take strong stands and be vocal against U.S. imperialism and the way it is exploiting and killing our people abroad in the name of U.S. corporate interests.

I would also like to say that, as a Colombian and a revolutionary, I hold Haitian history and the Haitian people in very high regard, because it is Haiti that taught all of the Americas what revolution looks like. It was Haiti that helped Colombia to become independent, and Haiti pushed Colombia to end slavery. So we owe Haiti so much, and we need to unite working class people to fight so that not only New York but the planet is no longer is making decisions based on what is in the interests of corporations. We must begin to make decisions for the working class and put all power in the hands of the people.

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