The police murder of George Floyd sparked national protests, and for many City Council candidates, the incident inspired their campaign run.
That was the case for Chi Ossé, a Black and queer activist running for a seat in District 36, which is currently occupied by term-limited city lawmaker Robert Cornegy and includes Bedford Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights. Ossé, a third-generation Brooklynite, is no stranger to the district: He grew up in Crown Heights and is of Haitian heritage.
“As an individual that understood that protest could not be our only strategy in order to achieve change in this country, I decided to take that leap of faith and jump into the City Council race,” Ossé told Gay City News.
At just 22 years of age, Ossé is one of many young political hopefuls clamoring for city office. He said coming from a marginalized background underscores the mission of his campaign.
“I think being a Black queer man is something that makes you political in and of itself,” he said. “I understand what needs to be changed in this city because I’ve experienced the systemic oppression that exists.”
Before jumping into the race, Ossé started as a changemaker on the ground.
After the death of Floyd, Ossé became a leader with the Warriors in the Garden, a collective of artists dedicated to non-violent protests. The activist group has been pivotal in organizing marches as well as publishing educational content on the impact of racism in the country. Last December, more than 60 City Council candidates signed his petition to fully fund CUNY, and he advocated for the city to use social workers instead of police to respond to crises.
Ossé is one of a dozen candidates who have filed to run in a crowded race for the Brooklyn seat. While he did not name any names, Ossé noted that many other local political campaigns run with “dirty money,” or what he describes as politicians taking funds from donors and allowing that to direct their policies. Ossé specifically denounced those who accept donations from the fossil fuel and real estate industries.
“We need to stay true to our ideals and values as well as the interest of our communities,” he explained.
To date, Ossé has raised $53,116 for his 2021 campaign, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Should he get elected, Ossé is hoping to follow through on putting police reform into action — but the details are not quite set in stone yet. During the interview, Ossé described the police budget as “bloated” and called for a reduction in the budget, but contrary to many other candidates, he opted against providing a specific dollar amount because he said “it will have to depend on how much we’ll be able to take.”
According to Ossé’s campaign site, he supports the creation an independent auditing body that would collect data on dispatches and allow for greater transparency surrounding spending.
“A big part of my platform is this philosophy of the three Rs: reimagine, reinvest, and renew,” Ossé said.
He added, “We need to reimagine what these imploded and inefficient agencies in our city are doing and reallocate funds from those agencies and reinvest back into our communities and the individuals that are actually doing the work.”
Expanding health equity and providing affordable housing are among the top priorities of Ossé’s campaign — and those issues are aligned with a recent New Pride Agenda survey showing that health and housing are two of the most prominent issues for many LGBTQ voters in New York City. To bolster underprivileged groups, Ossé recommends boosting funds for the Ali Forney Center, which provides shelter and services to LGBTQ youth, and other local groups.
“Housing is healthcare right now,” Ossé said. “Many of our queer and trans youth are houseless, and that’s the responsibility of our city councilmembers.”
On other top issues facing queer New Yorkers, Ossé fully supports the decriminalization of sex work, a movement that is steadily gaining momentum in New York.
“It will provide more safety,” Ossé said. “I think that it needs to become a norm within the city so that we can protect our trans women of color and provide them with the worker’s rights that they deserve.”
Plus, he is advocating for more inclusive education in schools — including queer education — to better inform and equip students for the future.
“Whether it’s Black history, whether it’s American history, an impactful component to our history is queer history, especially here in New York City,” he said.
Ultimately, Ossé doubled down on the importance of including the city’s most disenfranchised populations on the front lines of policy.
“I know what needs to be done in order to fight, not only for marginalized people but for all people,” he said. “We need to fight for those that are on the fringes the most.”
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