22-year-old protest leader eyes Bed-Stuy council seat

Chi Ossé, a protest leader, is running for the seat Robert Cornegy will vacate in 2021.
Osse 2021

Chi Ossé, a 22-year-old activist and Crown Heights resident, announced his run for the City Council’s 36th District in June, making him the youngest candidate to ever run for the seat.

A co-founding member of the activist collective Warriors in the Garden, Ossé is one of the first political candidates in New York to spring directly out of the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement. The young political hopeful says running for office was the next logical step as he looked beyond protest organizing for somewhere to channel the passions the movement ignited in him.

“These protests can’t last forever. I would like them to, to a certain extent, but some people aren’t going to go out every day,” he said. “How can I transition that passion into another form where I can actually fight for legislative change?” 

Following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ossé was one of thousands of young people who took to the streets in late May to denounce police brutality and call for deep cuts to the NYPD’s budget.

During his first night protesting at Barclays Center, the now-Council candidate was maced along with hundreds of other protesters — and a pair of Brooklyn elected officials — while others were beaten with batons and violently arrested by police. But, Ossé pushed forward, joining marches throughout late May and early June, and eventually meeting like-minded activists who would go on to form Warriors in the Garden.

Utilizing an Instagram following of over 25,000 people, its members have helped organize a bevy of marches, including the children’s march in Brooklyn, where dozens of youngsters were given the chance to speak before a crowd at Grand Army Plaza.

At this early stage in his campaign, Ossé’s policy priorities mirror those of many other protest leaders; among them, ending qualified immunity — the defense government officials can assert when they are sued for violating constitutional rights — in New York City, and further defunding the Police Department.

Ossé contends that the recently passed city budget, which saw parts of the NYPD budget shifted to the Department of Education for school safety agents, and made a slight cut to overtime spending, is a sign that the current City Council is not responsive to the wills of most New Yorkers — especially the young.

“Corey Johnson and the mayor gave us crumbs and tried to extinguish our fire,” he said. “But our fire is still there. We want more, and we’re going to demand more, and we’re going to enter positions of power where we can get the whole damn loaf.”

Ossé’s candidacy comes as local civic engagement reaches new highs, spurred in part by the movement to defund the police. During — and in the days leading up to — the City Council’s budget vote, protesters camped out at City Hall Park, where they watched the live-streamed proceedings on a projector and made sure their objections to “yes” votes were heard.

As a young candidate with no college degree or traditional political experience, Ossé makes an easy target for any older, more seasoned opponent for the council seat which spans Bedford Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights, and is currently occupied by term-limited Councilman Robert Cornegy.

Anticipating these criticisms, Ossé points to the current state of the city. With unemployment at a record high and fears of a looming eviction crisis running rampant, he asks what the experienced politicians in power now have done to stop it. 

“What is the state of New York City right now? Is it a pleasant one? Is it a utopia?” he said. “And that is at the hands of these well-seasoned politicians.”