Having a working mother and living next to the Klan influences Liliana Baiman's perspective
A young couple and the man holding a baby

Liliana Baiman with husband and baby

Every Columbus progressive and lefty knows who Joe Motil is and thank goodness we have him. But with the City Council vote just days away, do you know Liliana Rivera Baiman? She’s one of three Yes We Can candidates seeking to unseat several incumbents, known by many as the endorsed Democrats.

If you are unfamiliar with Liliana, a former Dreamer from Mexico, one of the first things you should know is how her passion to organize and lead was inspired at a very young age when her family moved to the hardscrabble Texas town of Dickinson.

Her father was a construction worker, her mother a custodian. There were three siblings and several uncles, also from Mexico. At one point the family numbered a dozen. Even though all adults had jobs, they still needed to find something affordable.

So the extended family moved into a three-bedroom trailer where their next-door neighbor's house was the headquarters for a large and active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

“We were told 'They’re not going to want you there, they’re not going to like you and they’re going to go after you until you leave,'” says the 33-year-old mother of a toddler with special needs. “We could tell it was a way of thinking there. They had a parade and there was no shame in it.”

The KKK never forced them to move, but the family moved to a more diverse community. Living so close to those so cold-hearted has left a deep impression, nevertheless.

Seeing her mother clean offices so they could just get by was also an epiphany.

“My mom is a very caring woman. She had a really bad job, and she pushed back and tried to organize workers without a union. Sometimes I would get nervous. I thought 'They’re going to fire her. They’re going to call immigration.' She would always tell us, ‘If you don’t speak up no one is going to hear you. At this point we have nothing to lose. We are just making it. We need to speak up.’”

Scholarships and financial aid for undocumented immigrants led Rivera Baiman to the University of Houston and into organizing for immigrant rights and labor.

She worked for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). In 2011, she came to Columbus to organize against Senate Bill 5, which was John Kasich’s union-busting effort against public employees that was repealed through a voter referendum.

“We were going to be here three years but I ended up liking Columbus. I also liked the progressive community here. It’s a small one, but more together. Back in Houston and Chicago there’s so many people doing so many things it’s hard to connect,” says Rivera Baiman, now a resident of the South Side. “Then my father-in-law told me I need to meet this guy named Bob Fitrakis (editor of the Columbus Free Press). That was our first introduction to the progressive community outside the labor movement. It made us feel at home right away.

More recently she became friends with many Yes We Can organizers such as Will Klatt, Will Petrik and Amy Harkins. They began suggesting her skills as a labor organizer – and also being a former Dreamer – was a compelling combination that could rouse voters.

But Rivera Baiman was pregnant with her son. She told them if they were to work as a “village,” then after the birth running was a possibility

“You can’t run unless you have a big support system. My village has helped change my son’s diaper, held him at meetings, taken care of my cat, help do my laundry,” she says. “Amy Harkins is my surrogate mother. Will Klatt has helped watch my child. His wife has watched my child. My child requires extra things, as he has special needs.

In mid-October, with the City Council vote just around the corner, Mayor Ginther and City Council Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown announced that all full-time city employees will now make a minimum of $15-an-hour. Yes We Can could only wince as city leadership again maneuvered in a way that stole one of the activist group’s signature issues and thus their thunder.

“It’s a little bit insulting,” says Rivera Baiman. “A lot of people have been pushing for $15-an-hour for a really long time. And they (the Mayor and the Endorsed Democrats on City Council) take a lot of credit for doing this.

She says Ginther and Brown forget their city employee’s AFSCME union has been pushing for $15 for years and AFSCME has told Yes We Can that many full-time city employees had already won the $15-an-hour demand some time ago.

“To announce this now is disingenuous. It’s very weird that they are doing this before the elections,” she says. “The reason this happened is because the union and workers negotiated this into their contract. Not because City Council gave anything to them. Working people need to think, ‘You didn’t give us anything. People have been fighting for this. And you finally gave in on it, and now you’re taking the credit? The credit should go to the unions and workers who fought for this.’"

Rivera Baiman says the endorsed Democrats – Elizabeth Brown, Rob Dorans, Shayla Favor, Emmanuel Remy – are good people trying to do good things. But they lack a deep sense of charity and embracing those truly in need.

“By giving out all those abatements they have chosen developers and the rich over working people time and time again,” she says. “What they need to do is make policy changes that are really going to help working people. Instead they are married to developers.

If elected, she wants to sit down with Columbus and have a long conversation. She wants to re-examine every abatement City Council has approved over the previous year and make sure the developers and corporations are living up their end of the bargain.

Rivera Baiman recently was in Franklinton with friends when she noticed the BrewDog bar and restaurant, thinking it was a bit high-end for a neighborhood still in need of real change, as most of it and the Hilltop remain besieged by poverty and addiction. BrewDog is impressive, she thought, but it doesn’t make sense.

“This neighborhood is plagued by the opioid crisis. There’s violence. The poor are barely able to pay their rent. Then you have these insane brand-new developments there and a lot of them are abated. That is a really clear picture of where Columbus is now,” she says.


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