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Chi Ossé is not your typical NYC council candidate. The 22-year-old is using his Generation Z lens to turn Brooklyn’s District 36 around for the betterment of the Black and brown communities within it. With his age being nothing but a number, he is the youngest person ever to run for this particular seat in city council. The Brooklynite’s key focuses are the three R’s: reimagine, reinvest and renew.
Though Ossé only officially announced his candidacy on Juneteenth during the height of the pandemic, COVID-19 did not stop his advocacy or attendance in his first protest ever following the death of George Floyd. As the co-founder of Generation Z activist group Warriors in the Garden, the Crown Heights resident has proven that he can bring keen knowledge of his native stomping grounds with a fresh set of eyes.
REVOLT spoke to Ossé about the influence of Bernie Sanders on his interest in politics, how he’s seen Brooklyn change throughout the years, and why politics needs more people and less politicians in office. Check out the conversation below!
Tell us about how you got interested in politics.
I’ve always been a political person. My parents have raised me to always speak up about things I’ve been dissatisfied with. Now you’ve got the political in and of itself. The first election that I voted in was the 2016 election when it was initially the primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Bernie really engaged me in politics. The youthful coalition that coalized behind him was really inspiring to see. Not only that, but his grassroots organization, and fundraising really got me involved and paying attention to politics in our country. Since then, I’ve always been engaged in politics on a federal level and I’ve always engaged in conversations about politics with my peers whether they’re like-minded or those who think differently. Not until this year and this summer did I really get into local politics. When I was protesting, we were chanting these demands on the streets and I remember thinking, “Who are these demands pointed towards?”
I did my research and realized that it’s the city council and our local elected officials. In New York City, our city council delegates our city budget and New York City is the wealthiest city in the country. That’s a pretty big job for people to have. When we’re demanding that our city council takes a deeper look into our police department budget and they don’t make the changes that we’re demanding, we can’t really blame them. We have to blame ourselves because we as a people are not usually the individuals that vote them in local elections. That’s what got me engaged in local politics in a deeper sense. It’s really important and that’s where I think we’ll see the most change.
How did your father Combat Jack’s pioneering in hip hop podcasting influence your passion for advocacy and Black culture?
I wouldn’t even say that his show inspired me, but I think he as a person inspired me. His show was him speaking to thousands and at home, he was speaking to me and my brother. I grew up with that voice in my life. He always talked about a range of subjects whether it be culture or the experience of being Black in this country. My dad’s voice was, I believe, his greatest gift and he had a lot of wisdom that I carry with me today and I hear his voice, and speak it on my own with the career path that I’ve decided to choose.
How have you seen the relationship between hip hop, pop culture and politics evolve?
Well, my dad did a really great job of intertwining culture with politics and that’s what I’m trying to do, as well. Being Black in America is political, being Black in America is protest in and of itself. So, anything that we put out whether it’s art, music or how we speak, that’s political. It has the weight to change what’s happening in our society. It has and it will continue to.
Why specifically run for District 36’s city council?
Again, when I was protesting, I really saw the weight of our city council. They’re the legislative body of New York City, they delegate the city budget and they also are in charge and write off on developments that are built within our community. As a third-generation Brooklynite and Crown Heights native, I’ve grown up seeing this neighborhood change for better and for worse. I’ve seen the gentrification in this neighborhood, I’ve seen the gun violence, I’ve seen the over-policing and I got to a point where I was fed up — and I am fed up. When I’m fed up or when anyone is fed up, I think they should take the next leap of faith, which is taking responsibility and choosing action rather than complaining. I decided to jump into this race, first, to fix my community and add a youthful energetic voice that is very much needed in politics in general to set the precedent for what real progressive politics looks like.
How has your upbringing in Brooklyn influenced your involvement in local politics?
Brooklyn is who I am. New York is who I am. It created this outspoken individual that is talking to you on the phone today. I am a result of the melting pot that my district is and that Crown Heights is. I’m Haitian, I’m Chinese, I’m Black, I’m New York and that’s who needs to represent us in politics at all times, especially in New York City.
What are some issues specifically impacting District 36 you believe current elected officials can do a better job at catering to?
I jump into this race starting with Black Lives Matter. I was protesting and continued to protest against police brutality, and I came into this race emphasizing that Black lives matter. Many people have tunnel vision of that statement and they hear it only in the sense of when law enforcement kill Black men and women, and that’s not the case.
In America, in New York City and in Brooklyn, Black neighborhoods are redlined in districts where we don’t have access to funded public housing, funded public education, healthy foods in our neighborhoods or healthy breathing air because of pollutants that are typically placed in our districts. We’re dying slowly every single day in the districts that we’re put in at the hands of the system. When I say Black lives matter and engrain Black lives matter into my platform, it’s because I want to prevent these killings of Black lives that we see and experience on a day-to-day basis. My district does suffer from gun violence and a lot of people would say the answer is more policing, but I only see that as tape over a leaking pipe. It’s not going to fix the problem that’s only going to get worse and that is very temporary. We need to go back to the roots. Our schools are underfunded, our public housing is underfunded, gentrification is running rampant and those who have been in the district forever are being pushed out due to the increase in property taxes. What we need is an elected official like myself who is not accepting money from real estate companies, [but] that is a person from the district, has the experience of the oppression that exists in this district, and is standing up to represent those in need.
How have you been using your campaign to align with the Black Lives Matter movement?
I’m doing it in a Gen Z way. I am 22 years old, I am a child that grew up from the internet and smart technology, and I know how to use these tools to capture an audience and educate people at the same time. I think that’s something we saw this summer with the awakening of the Black Lives Matter movement. We saw technology take a really important place in how successful this movement was and that’s what I’m doing with my campaign. I have above nearly 15,000 Instagram followers; I’ve outreached to the press and have been able to speak to press that have never covered local politics before. I’m taking a strategic approach to this in a cool way because that’s what I am. I’m a young creative that never thought I would be into politics and I think that’s what’s engaging for a lot of people. For once, someone is making local politics loud.
How does your Generation Z lens assist with your campaigning? Do you think that you’re often underestimated as a candidate because of your age?
I love being underestimated and it’s something that I’m experiencing on a day-to-day basis. Not only that, but people are saying that I do not have experience in politics and government, and I take that as a compliment. We don’t need any more politicians in politics, we need people and that’s what I’m trying to tell the people that I speak to every day. How many times have we seen politicians make false promises that don’t get completed? I’m trying to change that and reestablish trust not only between people and public safety, but people and elected officials. With this Gen Z lens, I’m hoping to engage young individuals like myself and even younger, and progressives all across the boards to have hope in democracy, and actually take action in what happens in our own backyards.
What’s the importance of uplifting the Gen Z vote in local and general elections?
I’d like to say that — and this may sound nihilistic — we don’t have much time left to save us. Climate change is running a muck and the climate crisis seems to be nih. Racism has increased at an alarming rate. I think it’s always been there, however, seeing it on a day-to-day basis with Trump is another sense of reopening of racism. As a Gen Z individual and as a young person, I don’t see there to be enough time for us to chill and not be taking action in any way that we can. If we’re not doing anything for change at this point, what are we doing?
Specifically when it comes to the NYPD, are you in favor of abolishing the police or defunding it?
I’m in favor of reimagining public safety. We need to develop a city and district committed to tackling violence and poverty at systems of deeper elements to be solved with reinvestment into the community at every level and stage of life. With that reimagining, we need to reinvest in new ways of public safety. There are inefficient NYPD resources that can be turned into data-driven solutions for community problems. Instead of armed officers showing up at a domestic violence call, we need mental health professionals. We need community centers, we need people in our community to step up to the plate and protect us.
I’m not against defund nor abolish [and] I would not call myself an abolitionist. I truly believe that language is important. Democrats love headlines — they love “abolish,” they love “defund,” they love “cancel rent.” Those are very newsworthy, but they don’t actually get policy done or through. Republicans are really great at how they put legislation into language and they actually get a lot of legislation passed because of their language. Language is extremely important in terms of getting things done. When I explain to peers and elders in my community it’s a re-imagination, reallocation, reinvestment and renewal, they understand that’s the pathway to take.
If and when you step in as an elected official, what’s the impact you hope to leave on District 36?
Next June, it won’t only be an impact left on District 36. It’ll be an impact left across the country that young people, young Black people, young queer people, young college dropouts [know] when you have a voice, you can take action and win like I’ve won.