CLOSE UP: Chi Ossé & Warriors In The Garden
A few weeks ago my friend sent me a profile of a young activist, who had decided to run for city council in his district. When looking at this black beret donning activists page, I knew Chi Ossé was a voice everyone should know about. In discovering Chi I also became familiar with Warriors in the Garden, a collective of activists dedicated to nonviolent protest, that are determined to protect communities from police brutality and all forms of systemic oppression. These young people are at the forefront of the movement in NYC, working to activate change on every level. They're our leaders.
Chi Ossé on his 2021 bid for City Council in the 36th district
EJ: Hi Chi! How are you holding up today?
CO: Hi Elisa! I am doing well. I’m happy to be speaking with you today. Everyday since I announced my campaign bid, I feel like I’m making new strides for our NYC communities. I’ve been learning more about our government system - both locally and nationally. As I continue to learn, I find myself becoming more passionate about political work, and that feels good. As a black queer man, I never saw people like me openly in political positions, so everyday feels like a victory. How are you Elisa?!
EJ: I am glad to hear that! I am good as well, just trying to stay sane!
I was very inspired when a friend of mine sent me your page, and told me about the work you’ve done with Warriors In The Garden, and now running for City Council in the 36th district. What inspired you to take the leap and run for this upcoming 2021 election?
CO: On May 28th, just days after George Floyds death, I felt very moved to go out and protest in NYC. I grew up with the generation that saw Trayvon Martin get killed, and his killer walk away free. A lot of millennials and Gen Zers were so young, and we felt hopeless because we couldn’t go out to protest. Our parents were afraid and still are. That was in 2012, and since then countless of other black, trans, and people of color have died because of institutionalized racism. This year, I felt like enough was enough! I wanted to represent my community and find my voice. While I was out there protesting, I realized people were listening, and shared the same frustrations I did.
From there, a group of other leaders and I started WITG: a collective group of activists dedicated to nonviolent protest. But, as Cuomo started to open up the city, I realized that protesting will not last forever. I started to think about the other ways of inspiring political change, I’ve always been interested in politics, but as a black queer man, I never thought I would have the chance. After a ton of research, I realized I could run for local government in NYC, and motivate other young people to do the same.
EJ: As the first Gen Z politician to run for this seat, what would you say to critics who will use your age against you? And what would you say to other young people who are thinking of running for elected office?
CO: For the critics who want to engage in ageism, I would ask what they are doing at their age to protect our communities from systematic oppression? If age makes politicians so equipped, why are we still fighting for equal rights 400 years later? I’ve lived in NYC my whole life, I’ve experienced all the pain they’ve inflicted on my communities including gentrification, food deserts, police brutality, and more. And those experiences alone show that I am more equipped than most politicians who’ve never experienced the issues they claim to be fighting for. We need younger people in office, younger people who already see the world they want to live in. The best place to start is at the local level, find out what you need to run. I know once younger people see me win, they will know they can run and win as well!
EJ: As a New Yorker, born and raised- how do you feel being a product of this city has influenced your passion for activism?
CO: I grew up in the neighborhood that I am running in, and I’ve seen the changes first hand. My family and I lived in Crown Heights for three generations. As I got older, I slowly started to see my neighborhood change. My community went from being predominantly African American to white liberals who would complain about their dogs being scared of homeless people. Those homeless people are the same ones being kicked out of their homes due to gentrification. I’ve seen a rise in police brutality, lack of educational resources, and food deserts. I know what my neighborhood used to be and it influenced me to be the change I want to see.
EJ: You’ve already announced as a part of your campaign the intent to sponsor initiatives that will (1) End qualified immunity, (2) Decrease the police budget and Demilitarize the NYPD, and (3) Re-invest capital and resources into communities of color and lower income communities, which are causes that are very important to young people, especially those who are BIPOC. Explain why these causes are so important to your campaign, and what these reforms could do for our communities?
CO: The NYPD has been terrorizing our communities for decades. These communities already lack the resources to fund education, healthcare, and more. It is important that we decrease the police budget to allocate those funds back into the communities of color and lower income. These are the communities suffered under the hands of the police the most. Qualified immunity is a doctrine that shields public officials from being sued by citizens, and when citizens do sue law enforcement and win those lawsuits, the settlement comes out of the taxpayers dollars. Citizens tax dollars should be going back into our communities for public housing, healthcare, and education!
EJ: I want to say thank you so much for using your voice to inspire and create change, what are some ways that people can get involved in the Osse 2021 Campaign, both virtually and on the ground?
If you want to be involved in the Osse 2021 campaign please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow us on instagram and Twitter @osse2021
Warriors In The Garden on their collective, and mission, answers on behalf of WITG, Kiara Williams & Chi Ossé
EJ: First of all I truly admire the work that you guys do, I wanted to start by asking about WITG inception, how did the founders of WITG meet, and how did the collective come together?
WITG: We all met very organically at the protest while individually trying to use our voice to inspire the crowd. We eventually realized that we were all echoing the same messages and felt like our message would be louder amplified together. So we started to meet and organize our own protest because many protestors started to reach out to us to ask when and where the next protest would be.
EJ: For those who are not familiar with WITG, how would you describe the organization's mission, and the specific causes WITG is committed to?
WITG: Warriors in the Garden is a collective of activists dedicated to nonviolent protest. We are determined to protect our community from police brutality and all forms of systemic oppression. We will create and activate the educational, social, and economic sectors in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all people of color in New York City.
EJ: Amongst the protests you’ve organized, you’ve organized specific children’s protests, which I think is so special! What were the largest takeaways from these protests?
WITG: The children's march was extremely inspiring because honestly we feel like young kids motivating the younger generation. We met at the Barclays Center then marched to the Brooklyn Public Library where we set up a mini podium to allow the kids to give their speech. Their speeches were the best takeaways from the protest because kids think that they don’t notice what's going on but they do. One of the kids called Donald Trump a bully and the crowd went crazy. Another five year old went up and said “I am five, I’m black, and I’m proud”. The best part was giving these young kids a space to use their voice. They are our future leaders so it was very empowering to witness.
EJ: WITG has been an organization that has simultaneously grown both on the ground and virtually, what is your advice to people who may not have as much access to in person demonstrations, but want to use their voice
WITG: Social media protesting which isn't a coined word, but we think it should be. After the deaths of George Floyds, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery we saw an increase of people using their social media accounts to raise awareness about what's going on in their community. I think that widespread awareness is bringing attention to policies and systems that need to be changed. We wouldn’t be where we are now without the sharing of violence on social media. I think social media brings light to situations we tried to avoid socially. I think another way people can use their voice is by running for these positions of power. We need more young people who are progressive to run for local elections. We also need more people to sign petitions and learn more about local/ national government. Lastly, we all have to VOTE.
EJ: Within any group there are many different view-points and ideologies, as an organization how do you maintain your social messaging?
WITG: Although we are a very unique organization, we are grateful to have similar viewpoints and we try not to infringe on other people's beliefs. We are all determined to protect our community from police brutality and all forms of systemic oppression. We try to uplift our similarities rather than our differences. We believe that focusing on our differences is what keeps all divided.
EJ: We’re obviously in an unprecedented time culturally, how are you handling more traction, and what has the day to day been like?
WITG: We are so busy and everything feels like it is going by so fast. Sometimes we have to remind each other to take care of ourselves. We had to break up into groups to streamline our day to day process. So some people work on organizing the protest, others build social media content, others work on booking our interviews. But overall, we all work together to do as much as we can. We definitely could not do this on our own, and having an entire team really keeps us going.
EJ: How can people help and get involved with WITG outside of attending protests?
WITG: People can always email us at email@example.com we are always looking for a chance to collaborate with creatives, leaders, and more. We want to give people the opportunity to work with us in whatever capacity they can.
EJ: What is the current vision or plan going forward as an organization?
WITG: We started in NYC, but we want to have chapters nationwide to continue to create and activate the educational, social, and economic sectors in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all people of color around the world.