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In the Fight: Community-Led Change in North Brooklyn10 min read

In the Fight North Brooklyn is a community activism group that began in 2019. Tobi and Chelsea, two of its founding members, joined the Oppy for a conversation on effective political engagement, protests in NYC, difficult conversations, and more. To learn more about In the Fight, check them out at or on social media @inthefightNBK.

Listen to the interview in its entirety below.

Mattia: Tell me about yourself!

Chelsea: Definitely, I can start. My name is Chelsea, obviously. I’ve been in New York City for about three years, currently located in Bushwick. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve been involved in politics in different ways for a while. I was a policy major in college and I’ve worked on campaigns, on the government side, and I’ve worked for nonprofits. I’ve always been very interested in public service and the public sphere in general.

Tobi: I’m Tobi, I’ve been in New York for actually about ten years now, which is just crazy to say. In terms of what I do, I’m an artist and I work in the media industry as well. I didn’t become anywhere near politically active until after the election of Trump in 2016. Going into this election, I wanted to start getting more involved and not leaving anything left out there like I had in 2016. That led to meeting Chelsea, which led to North Brooklyn for Warren which is now all this, which is pretty dope.

Mattia: It would be great to flesh out that story a little bit more because I think it’s pretty interesting and gives a view of how these things come about. How did In the Fight come to be?

Chelsea: Back like last May, I think March 2019, I started getting interested in Warren’s candidacy. She had come out with her student loan forgiveness plan, a couple other big ones, like universal child care, things like that. And I was like, “OK, this is the woman that I want to be president.” So I started looking to see if there were any events going on. There was an event in Prospect Park. I signed up to learn more but it just seemed like everything that they were talking about was happening down in that area. Coming from Bushwick and I work in Queens – getting to Prospect Park was a nightmare. So I was like, “I want to be involved for Warren. I bet there’s other people who feel the same way that I do who would be interested in a group doing similar things, but in North Brooklyn.” 

One of the things the campaign had put together pretty early was this online platform called All In for Warren. In the app I found Tobi and some of our other really early members to start hosting debate parties. And that’s how our initial small groups came together. Our first happy hour had fifteen people. The next one after that had almost 50 people. And that’s where we have a lot of people that we’re organizing with now – people who came to that initial meeting and just have stuck around.

Mattia: Very cool. It’s such a great community story of a group of people coming together for as much the cause as each other.

What do you think makes this type of activism effective at driving change? There’s so much just frustration; everybody’s angry and they think, well, everybody else is so angry, so what’s even the point of having the conversation? 

Chelsea: Just the act of doing something is to me, the biggest thing. The act of doing something at all and not just sitting in that anger and that frustration, I think is a huge help for people. It has a snowball effect. Someone gets personally invested in it, then they’re going to start doing more over time. We have several of our volunteers recently who got hired on actual Democratic campaigns. 

Tobi: One of the main reasons why we named our group “In the Fight” was because the act of doing something can be really powerful. So much of our energy is spent consuming the news. It can be a really liberating and powerful experience when you finally aren’t just reacting, but you’re being proactive. You keep getting in the fight and doing something, whether that’s phone banking, or whether that’s having a conversation with your family members. There are many ways to get in the fight. 

Chelsea: Something we have always tried to do is open up ways to contribute that aren’t necessarily the classic political action.

You don’t have to necessarily knock doors or phone banks to contribute. Some people have phone anxiety or get too anxious when talking to people, but they can help us with graphic design, or managing social media. And I think groups like ours are better able to bring in people that way rather than groups just trying to get you on a campaign or something.

Mattia: I’m really glad you brought that up. People have this idea where getting involved means calling people. And people don’t want to call people. I’m curious, how have you made people aware that there are more ways to get involved? 

Tobi: We often talk about having low barrier entry events. We always have our bi-weekly happy hour, which, you can just show up, you can hear what we’re doing. You can hear different ways that you can get yourself involved. You’ll hear from a speaker maybe, too. That’s a really effective way that we’ve been able to introduce people.

Mattia: It’s the philosophy of do you shame people into doing something or do you make it so easy that they do it on their own.

Chelsea: That’s definitely such a big part of it, making it as easy as possible. We’ve also built it into the way we organize. We have, like, specific teams that do communications, a marketing team that’s all like social media, graphic design, copywriting blog posts, recruiting people to write those. We have our community outreach team. We try to make people aware that there are other things that they can do.

Mattia: What are you most proud of in terms of what you’ve done personally or as a group as you’ve gone through this this journey?

Chelsea: Oh, man, a lot of it.

I had some friends in New York before starting North Brooklyn for Warren, but this has really become my community here. And I think a lot of our members would say the same. So I’m pretty proud of that.

Tobi: Yeah, I would definitely say something similar. If I want to pick something specific, I think we had a really, really good response to the killing of George Floyd.

Chelsea: I don’t remember how many calls we pushed out – six hundred, I think it was. They knew who we were by the end of the day.

One of the positions we put in there was the cutting of one billion dollars from the NYPD budget. Not a lot of groups were voicing that opinion at the time. I’m proud that we were a little bit ahead of the curve on that. 

Mattia: It’s a great example and actually a great segue into talking about what else the group was up to this summer. Looking back, what do you take away from those experiences? What else felt particularly impactful?

Chelsea: We did a big Day of Action. We had a call guide, then we also did a broader resource guide: Here’s calls you can make for Justice for George Boyd, here’s calls you can make for Justice for Breanna Taylor, here’s Nina Pop. We also had good community organizations to donate to. We also were organizing groups to go out and protest together. We had a channel. We put a channel in our work pretty much every day. Someone want to be like, “OK, like who is going where tonight to protest.”

I think for myself and for a lot of people in our group who have more of a background in electoral and legislative activism, it’s been like, “oh, OK, like we did we did all the right things. We checked all the boxes and they still didn’t listen to us.” This summer has really kind of proved to me that there are a lot of different types of organizing that need to complement each other.

Mattia: Switching sides ideologically: what have you learned in talking to very misguidedly stubborn people with opposing viewpoints? 

Chelsea: I can’t pretend like I am an expert. If I were to go hang out with some of my aunts and uncles, I would still struggle with it.

But one thing that Elizabeth Warren talked about a lot was the idea of meeting someone where they are. We might talk about wealth tax in terms of justice and taxes and spending and things like that. But like for someone who is more libertarian in view, you talk about focusing on everyday people. “Joe the Plumber is working hard at his plumbing job, why isn’t he living better, while Jeff Bezos is living like a fucking God?” Understanding how to frame the issues is very important. And being able to talk about it on a human level and not purely just an ideological one.

Mattia: So what are you all up to these days?

Chelsea: Obviously everyone is paying attention to November, but we as a group decided that our primary focus would be more on local.

We decided to encourage our members to do more when they can. A lot of our members are doing the Adopt a State thing. We have been doing every other Saturday phone banks for the Maine Democrats, for Sarah Gideon, running for Senate against Susan Collins. Joe Biden is also included on those phone calls and several down ballot candidates as well. We are continuing to do our happy hours, again, mostly with local candidates.

The other part of it is a lot of us just aren’t jazzed about Joe Biden. I mean, in the debate last week he straight up said, “I don’t support the Green New Deal.” He doesn’t support a lot of the bold progressive ideas that drew people in our group.

Tobi: We as the left have been fairly united this election around getting a W at the end of the day. But I do wonder what it’s going to be like once Trump is out of office and we’re looking around at ourselves, like, how are we going to use power? 

I want to stress: VOTE FOR JOE BIDEN, do it.

Chelsea: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mattia: Chelsea, Tobi, this has been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun and a great conversation. I really enjoyed it. Is there anything else that you want to get out there in terms of In The Fight or any messages that you want to leave us with? 

Chelsea: Electoral politics won’t save us. That doesn’t mean we still won’t be involved in it. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. As someone who started a group in support of one specific political candidate, I feel like I am in a good place to say: politicians are not your heroes, politicians are not your saviors. If you want to make a difference, there’s a million ways to do it. You just have to find the lane that’s right for you. And if you want some help along the way, you can come join In the Fight!

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