Chi Ossé describes his relationship with activism and advocacy as an awakening — one that transpired last summer after the murder of George Floyd led him and his friends to protest on the streets of New York City. The 23-year-old activist became so inspired by the collective demonstrations that he and his peers attended marches and vigils almost daily. Realizing that people were listening to his voice and following his lead, Ossé organized Warriors in the Garden, a collective of activists dedicated to nonviolent protest. The collective’s efforts spread far beyond marching, with clothing drives, business fairs, and voter registration events. For Ossé, it’s been refreshing to meet so many people with a shared vision for Brooklyn’s prosperity.
Centering social justice, fighting for liberation, and holding oppressors and law enforcement accountable has always been an interest of Ossé, but after a summer of racial reckoning, he decided to make it his life mission by running for the New York City Council in Brooklyn’s 36th District, placing him as the youngest candidate ever to seek the seat. While ageism has historically held young individuals behind in positions of political power and government, Ossé views his Gen Z identification as an undeniable advantage. With his fresh approach, he hopes to dismantle the myth that young people have to wait their turn in order to get to a certain place. I caught up with Ossé to hear all about running for office, his vision for his district, and the drive that led him to be a changemaker.
GEN: You’re only 23 and running for elected office. What steps are you taking to become the best advocate possible for your district, and also how do you feel your age actually benefits you in this position?
Chi Ossé: I’m a political outsider. I’ve never run for office before and have not been a cherub to the machine. I think that’s necessary. I’m approaching this campaign and politics with a different perspective. You have a lot of individuals that have waited their turn to get to a place where they can run for office, but by the time they’re there, they’re disillusioned by the machine that they’ve been brought by. And with my perspective, I’m approaching it through the lens of a person. We need more people in politics rather than politicians, especially in local politics.
When you say we need more people in politics rather than politicians, what do you mean?
My age is definitely something that affects my experience, but I have life experience, and I think that’s even more important when it comes to seats like this. My father passed away at the age of 53, which is a young age. The mortality rate for Black men is significantly lower than those of non-Black people. And that’s a direct result of our racist health care system when it comes to Black people. My mother’s a single mother who owns a small business, so seeing her keep her business open and fight to keep her kids alive and okay is an experience that I have witnessed and have lived in. The fact that I had to drop out of school because of the student debt crisis that many Americans are experiencing is a lived experience. I’m bringing all of my life to this campaign because it resonates with many people, not only here in District 36, but across the city. And that’s what we need in office. Not these individuals that are told what to do for a decade-plus in order to get into their seats. No, we need people that have lived life, that have experienced the hardships of life, and that are bringing different solutions to the equation.
“This path is the right one to be on, and it takes work to get to our destination.”
Do you see any common rookie mistakes that people make when they first start working or organizing or launching projects in this space?
Yes. I believe that inner fighting and neglect of what the larger issue is is one of the biggest mistakes that we can all make. Obviously, we will all have our qualms. We are human beings with one another. I will never excuse sexual harassment or transphobia or racism or misogyny when it comes to organizing or protesting peace. However, when it comes to “that person’s a clout chaser, that person isn’t as much of an activist as I am,” those are some things that I do not believe are acceptable within the space when we were all fighting for the same thing. Or at least what I believe to be the same thing — and that is our liberation.
What would you say your leadership style is?
My leadership is a co-governing model. I think oftentimes leaders, and especially candidates and electeds, build up this image that they know everything and they know the answers to all of the problems. And I think that is a direct result of failed leadership. What we need in electeds are these individuals who are willing to co-govern. I have so much to learn from my neighbors, my community, and the people I work with, and I try to bring that to my leadership because we’re all leading together. It isn’t a one-person job. It is a unit of individuals that are listening to one another and building off of one another’s ideas.
You hold a deep understanding of systemic racism and social justice, and I’ve also noticed that your activism is inclusive of race and sexual orientation. Right now it seems like a lot of people are finally able to hear and understand the concepts that you’ve been sharing since the summer. Is that satisfying or exhausting after all this time? Or both?
Both, definitely. And I think that’s life. You get the best of both worlds. But I guess it’s just consistency, and consistency isn’t easy, but it’s what helps you get to where you need to be. You gotta keep on sharing your message. There will always be ears of people that have not heard my message, and I do have to understand that. That’s the power of organizing. It’s continuing to share your message and inspire others to share the words that you’re sharing with them. So yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s mainly satisfying.
I believe that this path is the right one to be on, and it takes work to get to our destination. Obviously, there were people that have been fighting and sharing these messages and this movement before me, and I’m just building off of them. They got me to where I am now.