First-year jazz studies major Harry D’Agostino recently decided to run for Lieutenant Governor (Lt. Gov.) of New York State for the Socialist Workers Party. A native of Chelsea, New York City, D’Agostino spoke to me about his ambitions for the working class.
Zan Strumfeld: Why did you decide to run for Lt. Governor?
Harry D’Agostino: I’ve been in support of the party for a few years now and I wanted to run because I wanted to be a part of the working class campaign, working people to take political power, that’s the central demand of the campaign and that’s the way it was organized. I think it’s important that working people break with the Democrats and the Republicans and have our own party.
ZS: Don’t you have to be 30 years old in order to be Lt. Governor?
HD: You do. In order to be the Lt. Gov. that’s the stipulation in the New York State constitution. In the event of my election, that’d be something we’d fight and talk about with the New York State Assembly and stuff like that.
ZS: Were you on the ballot?
HD: I was a write-in candidate. But part of the campaign is not about just going to the voting booth. We wanted to organize people to fight with us and defend their standard of living and raise it. In face of the conditions that are being brought up, like depression and expanding wars, the attacks on immigrants and women’s rights, cop brutality all around the United States. It’s important for working people to organize and fight. And the campaign was a way we could talk to thousands of workers about what they’re facing.
ZS: What did you do to campaign?
HD: We’ve been tabling in Hasbrouck for a few weeks and back in the city I would campaign tables mostly in Harlem for Roger [Calero] who’s on the ballot running for U.S. Congress District 15. I was part of the petitioning effort that got him on the ballot, we collected 8,000 signatures and talked to working people about the conditions they are facing under the [economic] depression. It’s something that’s just beginning but people are getting hit harder and harder and they’re being made [to pay] for a crisis that isn’t their responsibility. Working people didn’t create this crisis; it was created by the capitalist system. And it’s the social system that makes working people pay every cent of it. It’s how you take and accept the social system you live under. When we fight, that’s how we’re capable of defending our standard of living and making them pay for their own crisis.
ZS: What kind of reactions did people have when you talked to them?
HD: It depends where we were but in Harlem it was extremely positive. You know, if you say to somebody, “this isn’t our crisis but they’re making us pay for it,” there’s nothing to disagree with because everybody feels that way. And when you talk about how to move forward, there’s an attraction to the idea that working people need our own party. There was certainly an attraction here on campus when we talked about tuition hikes and how we could fight against that. The most important thing is that we’re talking about not just what we’re against but what we’re for and how to fight for that.
I got involved in politics because a few years ago a construction worker fell where I went to high school. You begin to think, “how can you get organized in a way that if you walk into an assembly line and see that it’s not safe, you have to build the confidence to walk out.” That’s not easy. It’s going to take working people to recognize what they’re capable of. If I walk around and leave this power plant, everyone’s going to go with me because they know what’s at stake. You can’t think of yourself as a me, we have to start thinking.
ZS: What’s happening now with the end of the election?
HD: We don’t do anything differently now that the election is over. We’re still going to be campaigning and we want to talk to thousands more. One of the things about the campaign is that we’re using it to promote a book called “Malcolm X, Black Liberation and the Road to Workers Power” [by Jack Barnes]. It’s about Malcolm X and the Black rights struggle in the 1960s but it’s really about today; it’s an example of confidence in yourself and what we’re facing today; we’re facing a depression that we haven’t lived through since the 1930s so it’s even more important now for the working people to understand the kind of confidence it takes to struggle like that.