For Enrique Peña Nieto, the leading candidate in Mexico’s upcoming election, the worst day of his presidential campaign was the day that sparked “#Yo soy 132” (I am number 132), a youth movement for social justice. When the candidate visited Iberoamerican University–a private, Jesuit-run college in Mexico City–last month, a crowd of young people stood up and called him “coward,” “liar,” and “assassin.”

That “Black Friday,” as it has been referred to in the press, was the beginning of a protest movement against Peña Nieto and what he represents as candidate of the party seeking to regain the Mexican presidency after 71 years of one-party rule. The movement also demands an end to media manipulation, concealment, and the “simulation” of information, especially television.

Despite the efforts of some in the media to hide what took place during Peña Nieto’s visit, students uploaded their own videos to the Internet and they became an instant hit. The attempt to conceal information about what really happened–coupled with a statement from the national director of the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, referring to the event as “a minor incident, orchestrated by a handful of young people, leftist sympathizers who don’t even attend the University,”– catalyzed the movement.

That statement prompted 131 students from the Ibero to produce a video in which they hold up their student IDs to confirm that, indeed, they do attend the university. They had acted independently in recording the candidate, not because they were following orders from anyone.  From that moment on, students from both public and private universities throughout Mexico City joined the movement. “Yo soy #132,” they said, as more and more students added their voices in protest against media bias and manipulation.

Demonstrations begin

Exercising their right to freedom of expression, a group of students told the candidate of the PRI, Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), that they didn’t want him there and they didn’t want what he represented. What began as a rejection of the candidate and media efforts to hide what happened at the Iberoamerican University soon broadened into a larger debate on EPN and on Televisa, the largest television network in the country, and the manipulation of news broadcasts.

The students at the Ibero challenged the model of elections as media farce. They said young people could not be manipulated and any attempt to do so was an insult to their intelligence. They demonstrated that it is not so easy to buy a conscience, stating that ‘sandwiches and sodas won’t buy our votes’.

On May 18, a week after the incident, students marched from the Ibero to Televisa facilities in the Santa Fe district of the city, protesting media manipulation and demanding the democratization of information. At the same time a contingent of students from the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM) and the Anahuac University showed their support by demonstrating outside Televisa’s building in the  San Angel district.  With placards referring to news bias and the manipulation of televised images, students said they were acting in solidarity with their fellow students from the Ibero, whom several political figures had characterized as intolerant hecklers who weren’t part of the university community. “What we want is for the media to tell the truth,” they demanded.

On May 23 thousands of students from public and private universities met at the “Estela de Luz” monument (a lavish tower built to commemorate the nation’s independence bicentennial) to show their support for the Ibero students’ “#Yo soy 132” initiative.

From that moment, the protest turned into a broad-based movement, attracting students not only  in Mexico City, but also in other states. Tired of the power exercised by the media, they joined their voices to shout, “Yo soy #132!” The demonstration that began at Estela de Luz turned into a march on Televisa’s Chapultepec studios, where the young people called on the giant media conglomerates to nationally broadcast the second presidential debate. They also called for more competition in the media and an end to trash programming.

When Javier Sicilia, the leader of civic society’s movement for peace with justice and dignity, unexpectedly appeared to show his support for the young protesters, he was met with applause.

Sympathizers of the group #Yo soy 132, which was formed with social media in response to the PRI candidate’s Ibero visit, called for media democracy and a fair and transparent electoral process. The response of thousands of students to the movement prompted talk of starting an organization and establishing assemblies and workshops.

The young people declared that the movement was non-partisan; they were not in favor of any candidate or media organization, but instead were asking the media to be more open and not to lie. During the demonstration, the hash tag “#yosoy132 “ trended highest on Twitter. The following week the website #yosoy132 was launched to spread their message with the slogan “Real information, not manipulation.”

Organizing the movement

On May 26 students gathered in the first assembly of the movement in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco [the Mexico City site where hundreds were killed during the 1968 student protest movement].  In response to questions about their lack of defined ideology, the group issued a manifesto directed at “the people of Mexico.” They declared their opposition to what they described as the political-business class seeking to impose Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) as president of the Republic.

They urged voters not to consider the 2012 presidential election a fait accompli, and criticized institutions such as the PRI and Televisa, that used politically correct discourse while acting in a contradictory fashion.

The students in the “Somos mas de 131” collective of the Iberoamerican University are among the thousands public and private university students that today are part of the #yo soy 132” student movement. They define themselves as a group that promotes peace, “but a peace that is critical and incisive,” and called upon all citizens to be informed, to become aware of what is happening and play an active and critical role in the electoral process.

At the end of their statement, the group concluded:  “We are all Tlatelolco, we are all El Halconazo, we are all Acteal, we are all Atenco, we are all 60,000 deaths, we are all this nation’s acts of impunity, we are no longer afraid,” referring to historic events that have marked and stained the history of this country. They crowd applauded as they finished by chanting the university motto: “The truth will set you free!”

The UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) joined #Yo soy 132 and convened an assembly that led to the organization of various committees, among them security and communication.

On May 30, university students held a general assembly of the  #Yo soy 132 movement to further define the movement’s actions. Around 50 universities and 135 educational institutions were represented. The movement  declared itself to be anti-Peña Nieto.

The following are among the most noteworthy agreements of the assembly:

* The movement is independent of any political party

* The movement is opposed to media manipulation

* The movement will temporarily maintain the structure of the University Coordinating Body

* It calls on sectors of society aggrieved by the current state of the nation to join the student struggle

* The movement will not engage in violence

* The movement will participate in the electoral process and document possible irregularities

* It demanded that the next candidate debate be broadcast nationally

* It demanded that the IFE (Federal Elections Institute) explain the presence of observers from the Organization of the American States. It demanded that the IT company Hildebrando not carry out the IFE electoral count due to a possible conflict of interests and its role in the 2006 elections.

* It will continue to function as an organized movement

* It issued a call for national unity and called upon presidential candidates to commit to carrying out a vote of confidence midway through the next administration.

The second presidential debate took place on June 10. Thanks to the  #Yo soy 132 demonstrations Televisa and TV Azteca, Mexico’s network television duopoly broadcast the debate throughout the country and giant screens were set up for viewing in Mexico City’s Zocalo.

Ever since, marches and meetings of the #Yo soy 132 organization have taken place in different parts of Mexico City, the State of Mexico, and various states of the Republic. The idea is to bring together all citizens who want to create a better informed society. Every day the movement uses social media to continue to spread its message.

On June 19 the third presidential debate, organized by the #Yo soy 132 movement, was held. Three of the four presidential candidates participated; the leading candidate, EPN, did not.

The organizations guaranteed that the debate would be held in a neutral environment, and that it would be carried out fairly without favoring any of the participants. From the outset Peña Nieto refused to participate in the student proposal, since the movement declared its express opposition to him.

The debate took place on June 19 at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission (CNDHDF) and was transmitted via Internet. At the last minute, technicians from various television stations arrived at the Commission with mobile units to establish a video connection. But they were too late. When the nation’s major television networks refused their invitation to participate in this exercise in plurality and broadcast the student organized debate, students turned to the Internet. The event was streamed live on YouTube, a Google platform. When the television networks later tried to reverse their course, Google demanded compliance with its exclusivity agreement. As a result, the mobile broadcast units departed.

Technical problems stemming from a weak signal occurred in the first part of the debate, which critics considered the most interesting, due to direct participation from universities. Moderator Genaro Lozano of ITAM sorted questions and handed the podium to young people at prearranged sites, such as a laboratory in the philosophy of science department at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico , a cubicle at the Ibero, a classroom in the political science department at the National Polytechnic Institute. Students considered the exchange of ideas and opportunity to reply a unique encounter; for the first time, the exercise was not a monologue.

The first encounter of presidential candidates to be held as a result of a citizen initiative took place thanks to the #Yo soy 132 movement. A movement spokesperson said the debate marked  a “historic day in the country’s pages of democracy ” and said that the movement had managed to ensure that it took place under fair and impartial conditions. In a message to PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, the movement expressed disappointment that he did not attend.

After the debate, the students appeared at a press conference. They apologized for the technical difficulties and recognized that they were learning from their mistakes. They reiterated, “We are a movement of Mexican young people who are seeking a fair and honest democratic process on the part of candidates, institutions, and the media.”

As to the candidates who did attend, they offered nothing new during the debate. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Josefina Vazquez Mota and Gabriel Quadri reiterated their proposals; the major absence– Enrique Peña Nieto–was represented by an empty chair.

Vanessa Garcia G. is a student of Communications and Journalism in the Department of Political and Social Science of the UNAM; and a collaborator with the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org/es

Translation: Barbara Belejack

Photography by Abigail Thornton

 

 

 

 

 

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