Ram for Senate
by Ina R Bochian
Last night, January 18th, Ram Villivalam campaign held a fundraiser at The Boarding House. Tickets ranged from $50 to $1000 and the turn out included over 100 community supporters, friends, friends of his wife, young professionals other politicians, attorneys and entrepreneurs. When I arrived the room was packed. The atmosphere was one of excitement and most supporters who came out seemed to be young, falling within the 25 to 40 demographic. Given our current political climate, it was encouraging to see the diversity in the room and the enthusiasm with which Ram’s supporters talked about him.
Ram grew up on the Northwest side with his family. Educated in the Chicago Public School system, Ram graduated from Lincoln Park High School’s IB program and went on to earn his BA in Political Science from George Washington University.
As a son of immigrant parents, Ram is a proud believer that the courage of his parents to move to the United States provided him the opportunities to achieve his own dreams. Like many immigrant parents, Ram’s parents left the life they had in their home country of India to move to America in the 1970’s. With next to nothing to live on, Ram’s parents struggled working minimum wage jobs, went to school again and persevered in their goals of becoming public servants. For more than 25 years Ram’s parents served their communities and instilled the importance of persistent work and helping people. Having this strong foundation set up by his parents, Ram wanted to make a difference and build on the work his parents did so that he can offer a better life for others.
Currently, Ram works as a consultant for SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana (formerly as a Legislative Coordinator). He advocates on behalf of more than 90,000 Home Care Providers, Child Care Providers, Nursing Home Workers, Hospital Workers, and people they provide care for. As an advocate he does whatever is within his power to improve the working conditions of those he represents, increase minimum wage, and protect funding for vital programs in which they work.
When he worked as an Outreach Director for U.S. Congressman Brad Schneider, Ram connected with manufacturing organizations, unions, immigration groups, and community colleges on more than 20 policy areas. During his time working with Congressman Schneider, Ram also designed the “Brad at your Business” initiative as a way to understand the challenges of small businesses across industries and facilitate worthwhile connections to local, state, and federal resources.
Additional to his professional work, Ram also serves on the Board of the Gun Violence Prevention PAC and as President of the Indo-American Democratic Organization.
Along with his wife, Elizabeth, who is his strongest supporter and biggest fan, Ram lives in the Mayfair neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago.
Meeting Ram’s friends and supporters, I got the sense that they have a lot of respect for Elizabeth because they came to know Ram through her. This spirt of encouragement and support resinated in the room. I particularly enjoyed talking to some of the volunteers and hearing some of their stories about Ram. One my favorite people I met at the event was Aleza (Allie) Litcherman, Ram’s campaign manager. Very much impressed by the professionalism and charisma she displayed, I wanted to know as much about her as I did about Ram.
Talking to Allie for a few minutes, she informed me that she had some prior experience working on campaigns and that she graduated from Princeton with a BA in History and African American Studies in 2016. From meeting Allie for just a few minutes, I could tell she was fully committed to making this campaign successful for Ram. Having interned in government myself, she reminded me of my old self. Nowadays, it seems, a lot of political events bring back positive memories about public service and the more positive and hard working professionals I meet, I am encouraged that American politics do have a chance to change for the better if the right people with the right attitude and education are strategically placed. As for Allie, I encouraged her and said, “It is so great to meet a woman in a strong leadership position. Good job with the event and also for pursuing your education and now dedicating yourself to public service. We need more women like you.” With a smile, Allie stayed engaged in conversation as a I told her some of the issues that concern me as an Illinois resident. Letting me know she would be available to answer more question after the event, she gave me her number and politely closed, ”It was great to meet you. Excuse me while I try to get a few more volunteers to sign up.” Her decorum and ability to work the room was impeccable. I stepped back and watched for a few minutes as Allie engaged in conversation with other attendees and passed along her clipboard. What I appreciate about Allie is that she seemed like a leader, rather than a dictator. There were other volunteers there, but Allie did not set herself apart or appeared to act superior in any way. She actively worked the event and spent more time showing how to lead.
As a constituent, when I meet political candidates, I observe the people with whom they surround themselves with and the comradery among those who work on their campaigns. The strength of a campaign team can determine the outcome of an election and any weaknesses observed early on should be addressed and eliminated in order to keep momentum strong.
From last night’s event and the quality of people present, I could already tell Ram is loved by his staff and volunteers and and respected among community members.
Casey Samagala, a campaign volunteer, who is also running for Alderman for the 39th Ward of Chicago, met Ram at the Albany Community Center where he works. “He is very involved with our center,” Samagala said. “I support him because I have seen how dedicated and committed he is to helping people.” As an active community member, it was good to hear that Ram leads by example.
When I talked to Ram, he told me that the top three issues he is passionate about are, “Increasing the minimum wage, immigrant rights, and protection against gun violence.” He talked about his family and how they are immigrants and about some of his experience with people getting paid unfair wages. “I want to create a better environment for the community,” Ram said. As we were talking several people came by to greet him and they all seemed to know him fairly well. Observing the little things at Ram’s event gave me the impression that he runs a strong campaign on a platform that got him the right community support. Furthermore, I was encouraged to find out that he is a strong advocate for women in Illinois and, if elected, plans to increase the funding for resources allocated to women survivors of sexual or domestic violence. “The problem is that there is no budget,” Ram said. “That needs to change in order for improvements to be made. We need to provide better help to those who need it, especially those who are in a domestic violence situation and need housing.” With the increasing number of women coming our to speak as part of the #MeToo movement, there needs to be more than just the opportunity to speak up. As in Illinois resident, I am encouraged to know Ram is well aware of this issue and thinks about how to create a better environment for women. Among other things, Ram’s experience in multicultural communities gives him a broader perspective on the issues facing complex communities and he seems capable of making a difference from the ground up.
Photographer Credits: Fa’ṣola Ogunṣola Hammond Carter III All rights Reserved