For Miryam Lerma, democracy is not a spectator sport


By Tom Reardon, February 2020 issue.

The
cream tends to rise to the top in most situations. One area where this is a
rarity is politics. The cream, in the political world, is often in the
background, working behind the scenes to help people get elected, keep them
honest, and look out for the rest of us in the process.

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For
people in Phoenix, one such person who is back there, looking out for us, is
Miryam Lerma, who recently founded For State’s Sake, an organization built upon
the principle that one voice, even ours, can help make our state a better
place.

Born
in Holland, Lerma moved to Phoenix, Arizona with her mother at the age of 3 in
1980. After attending Richard C. Simis and Meadows schools in the Madison
District, she graduated from Central High School and then got her bachelor’s
degree in Education from Arizona State University. During the summers, Lerma
would return to Amsterdam, where her father lived, and spend her holiday with
her family in Holland, which has given her a unique perspective on how the
world works. It wasn’t until 2018 that she became a United States citizen, but
her desire to make our community stronger came well before she was able to vote.

In
addition to Lerma being an incredible advocate for everyone (literally) in the
state between For State’s Sake and her work with Save Our Schools Arizona, she
spent her early career teaching in the Washington Elementary School District.
She is also married to husband Bobby Lerma, a mortgage advisor and drummer in
The Father Figures (full disclosure: Bobby is my bandmate), and the duo have a
daughter, Elliot, who is in seventh grade. Lerma and her family live in central
Phoenix near 12th Street and Glendale Ave., in Legislative District
28 where Lerma serves as executive secretary for the district board.

Miryam Lerma and daughter Elliot.

We
caught up with Lerma to talk about getting involved with local politics, how we
can do our part in the voting the process, and the importance of educating
ourselves on the issues, as well as a few other things. Here’s what she had to
say:

Echo: Thanks so much
for taking some to talk with us.  You’re
a busy woman. Have you always been interested in politics?

Lerma:
No, never. I’ve been trying to backtrack in my mind, you know, “When did this
begin?” and I’ve pinpointed that I started being involved with the PTO at
Elliot’s school (Madison Heights) when she was in kindergarten. During that
time at her elementary school, I was president of the PTO for three years and
it really was eye opening to see some of the inner workings of a school from a
parent perspective.

Did
you have to run in an election to be PTO President? Did that get your political
life going?

Well,
there is an election, but unfortunately, as I’m sure we’ll get into not enough
people get involved in these types of arenas. And so, there was no election, it
was a no contest as there was no other candidates. That happened three years in
a row. Typically, you do it two years in a row. There are bylaws that we abide
by, but there was literally no one else to do it.

That
must’ve been an eye-opening experience. What did you take away from it?

I
discovered through this process that I wasn’t interested (in politics prior)
because I didn’t know that I had skin in the game. I didn’t understand the
connection between politics and my life and the things that affect me.
So that was the huge eye-opening discovery for this process of just becoming
involved was to understand that this is affecting me, and I need to pay
attention.

What
has motivated you to do something about that idea of having skin in the game?

I
would say getting more involved and seeing different perspectives and it
blossomed out from there. If you think of the PTO as a small nucleus in the
center, then if you look outside in the next rung, you have the school board. I
started getting interested and asking, “What does the school board do and what
are they up to?” And then, if you branch out from there, you’ve got the leaders
in your legislative district.

I
started to see how things develop and how they are being decided within the
school about teachers, about classes, about students, and, obviously, about the
budget. I started to see there was a connection and it kept going out further
and out further. I started to realize that our state leaders and elected
officials have a lot to do with everything that’s going on right here in my
backyard. Not only at my child’s school, but also, in everything else in the
community. Things like affordable housing and water management and all the
things that are on my heart, they really have to do with what’s happening right
here in my own state by the people that we have elected to represent our
values.

I
think a lot of people overlook that. So, if someone wanted to get more
involved, what advice would you give them?

Lerma manning an info table with Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman.

Well,
first and foremost, democracy is not a spectator sport, so, I would definitely
suggest starting like I did and start in your own backyard. Check out the PTO
and school boards in your own area if you have children, and even if you don’t,
you live in a school district and you can go attend a school board meeting and
just hear what’s going on. I mean, it affects us all. Whether or not you have
children, the future is in the hands of these children and it does matter what
the school board is deciding for our kids.

I
would say to join some (political) groups on social media. Figure out who your
legislators are, for sure, and find out what legislative district you live, who
represents you, and go to their website. Read about them, read articles, Google
them, just find out what their values are and how they’ve been representing you
and see if that lines up with how you want to be represented.

What
do you do when you find out that you don’t quite see eye to eye with a
candidate or someone that is representing you?

When
you don’t see eye to eye with a candidate, it’s an opportunity to discuss it
with them. Make an appointment, call their office, or send them an email to
discuss the issues. If that candidate does get elected, you continue to stay
engaged and hold them accountable. Also, Arizona has an awesome online tool
called Request to Speak, RTS, that allows you to give our lawmakers feedback on
bills. It is a bit of a misnomer, as you do not actually have to “speak”.  You can give a thumbs up or thumbs down and
leave comments on bills. You can find out more information on
forstatessake.com.

I’m
glad you mentioned For State’s Sake and your website. Tell us about it.

It’s
a website where people can go to get information about local political issues
and the importance of local voting. I’ve made a T shirt that I designed to be a
conversation starter that has state issues on it (t-shirts are available on the
site). I hope this will get people discussing and acknowledging the issues that
we can affect right here in Arizona that affect our daily lives while
connecting the vote and your daily life.

We haven’t had an official launch,
but I do have an event coming up that Irene’s Tap Room (1227 E. Northern Avenue
in Phoenix) is hosting on Valentine’s day, which is also Arizona’s birthday. We
are promoting it as love Arizona by voting local or, “Love Arizona = Voting
Local.” There will be several speakers including legislator Kelly Butler from
District 28.

That’s awesome. What else can
people do to get involved?

If
you don’t want to support a candidate, there are also causes that you can
support. For instance, the outlaw dirty money campaign is going on right now.
You could work to gather signatures for that or other things, such as other
initiatives that are trying to get on the ballot. If you’re passionate about a
topic and it’s something that’s trying to get onto the ballot, those things are
important, too. So, it’s not just a person you have to support, but it could be
a cause or a movement. Get out and talk to people. It’s one conversation at a
time. That’s what get things done.

Will
you ever run for office?

No.
I don’t have the stomach for it or the heart. I find it all too heartbreaking,
but I will continue to be as much as I can behind the scenes there. Every
candidate has an enormous team of volunteers and committed people who work with
them and for them and I will be that till the end.

To
learn more, visit forstatessake.com.

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