|English | Español||May 21, 2013 | Issue #67|
In Mexico, Finally, a Revolt Against the Media
The Summer Will Determine If the “I Am 132” Moment Becomes a Movement and that’s Why “Mexican Spring” Is a Poor Choice of Words for It
By Isadora Bonilla and Al Giordano
A Mexican movement for authentic democracy discovers its true enemy:
The TV duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca.
The youths are right when they say that the media is the problem. There has never been, in human history, in any country, a mass movement that overturned the undemocratic power of private media companies, of what they call the “telecracy” that displaces democracy. There is no road map that shows how to topple that particular kind of dictator, for whom presidents are merely tools to be deployed for a while, then replaced with a new one. That’s where the moment stands today. That is the short version of the story.
There is potential in this moment. That’s what millions of Mexicans who cheer the youths are hoping. To understand and unlock that potential, a critical mass of people will have to be very smart and strategic in avoiding the missteps that brought similar hopeful moments in recent Mexican history to unfulfilled ends. This essay will offer no “master key” to unlock that puzzle, but seeks to share some thoughts that might help like-minded colleagues who seriously want to break the illusory power of the mass media to draw the successful roadmap to be able to do it.
If you’ve been predicting “a revolution against the media” for 15 years (and working to make it happen) you’ve probably been called crazy more times than you can count. Maybe you even had to move to Mexico after your manifesto against the media ended your career in that industry. If you’ve also insisted that the drug war will be ended in our lifetimes (and worked toward that, too) and wrote, twelve years ago, that, “Mexico, unique among American nations, has the power to call Washington’s bluff,” well, then they probably thought the drugs were doing the writing.
Students from universities and colleges throughout Mexico began to arrive at the National University for the May 30 meeting of 6,000 organizers who will not accept the media’s imposition of the return of a dinosaur regime. Photo DR 2012 Isadora Bonilla.
Likewise, if you were born and raised in Mexico and grew up with your hopes rising and falling through the 1994 Zapatista rebellion and its national caravans of 1997 and 2001, the 1999 student strike at the national university, the 2006 Zapatista “Other Campaign” and, that same year, the Oaxaca popular assembly movement, the presidential election fraud (also in 2006) and the post-electoral peaceful civil resistance and tent city, you’ve probably learned not to declare victory prematurely. Indeed, in each of those proud moments, with the laudable exception of the continued strength of Zapatista autonomous regions in Chiapas, the rest of those “movements” turned out to more be “moments” that were crushed brutally by the State with repressions that were cheered by its ally, the mass media.
Now it is June of 2012 and here we are, dateline Mexico:
The Mexican movement for peace, 13 months into its effort to end the drug war, flexed its muscles on May 28 when it forced the four presidential candidates to sit down with drug war victims and respond to their demands. It is a movement that still does not have a three-year plan to organize itself to end the war. It doesn’t even have a one-year plan. And it suffers from the growing pains that inflict all young movements. But it still exists, it speaks an urgent truth – that an expressly violent drug war and its organized crime can only be ended by an explicitly nonviolent movement and an organized citizenry – and while it stumbles toward articulating itself there is still the hope that it may grow to triumph.
Every participant registered using his and her first and last name, organizers wrote down the contact info of each, and all day long one knew with whom he or she was talking. Photo DR 2012 Isadora Bonilla.
The nascent movement’s web page (no single Internet page or organization represents everyone involved, but it is evidently the most widely read and therefore has significant influence upon what can be made of this moment) invites the reader, “Do you want to make history in Mexico?” And it has five interesting demands above the fold: “I want real and not manipulated information.” “No favoritism in the media.” “A people informed, not a people manipulated.” “Honest management of news.” And “Our mission is to inform and educate.”
Those are real messages that go beyond asking the State to do something or begging permission for freedoms and rights. That’s because in making these demands come true, the people ourselves have to be our own agents. “Our mission is to inform and educate” acknowledges the big truth that this is something in all our power, to do the job that the mass media fails to do, to “inform and educate” ourselves and each other. It does not ask TV Azteca or Televisa to hire us instead of the current news clowns they have on the air. It says, “We accept the duty and responsibility to replace you bastards with something better than you and outside of your reach or control.”
Even the Televisa “reporter” had to wear his first and last name, and media affiliation, on his chest to be able to cover the student assembly. Photo DR 2012 Isadora Bonilla.
One small grain of sand that we can and will add to the discussion is to immediately make available, for the first time on the Internet, the Spanish translation by Francisco Alvarez Quiñones in Chiapas of The Medium Is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against the Media, which had as its central premise:
Media now controls a new economic order: one that has supplanted governments, churches and productive industry to impose a mediating tyranny over people and our daily lives.
Therefore, something akin to revolution is necessary.
The text asks three questions:
• How do people develop a language of opposition against Media when the Media controls all language?
• Since Media excels at co-opting popular movements, both political and cultural, how can a popular resistance be designed to successfully overturn the co-optation process that has turned other important causes into commodities?
• In history, revolts have been conducted against governments, leaders and classes. But how can a revolt be formulated against a technology such as Media?
We obviously do not presume that this premise and these questions are the demand or inquiries of the good people of YoSoy132. But we do imagine that there are some among them that have reached similar conclusions and are asking similar questions now that a possible movement in direct opposition to the power of media companies is part of the national conversation. It is mainly to those people – the ones who really want to end the media’s power to manipulate public opinion, governments and the daily life of everyone – whom we hope to reach with these words. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” is a quote widely attributed in much media to the anthropologist Margaret Meade. “It is the only thing that ever has.” We believe in the basic truth of those words, no matter who said them first.
If you are one of those (perhaps very few) people who are looking two or more steps ahead of the current moment seeking a way to make a movement against the media real and to make it win, we want you to know that there are already friends and colleagues in Mexico and throughout the world who have been asking and finding some answers to these questions. Some are part of the School of Authentic Journalism, which will meet again, in the spring of 2013, in Mexico. We want to invite you into the conversation, listen to your ideas, be invited into your conversations with others on this front, and advance together on this long held goal of realizing a successful revolt against the power of the media.
No “occupy” style “mic check” here: the students of the YoSoy132 movement had everything organized with microphones. Photo DR 2012 Isadora Bonilla.
And that’s about to become even more important because the media industry is hell bent, today, on imposing on everyone something very, very old.
On May 7, Javier Sicilia wrote perhaps his best, most coherent, essay since his 2011 Open Letter to Politicians and Criminals that announced “Estamos hasta la Madre!” The new essay was titled: “The Return of the Dinosaur” and made the Jurassic Park book and movie the analogy for the possibility that the PRI will return to power after the July elections.
Nobody today under 30-years-old has lived as an adult under a PRI presidency. But the youths of YoSoy132 have certainly demonstrated historic memory, in many ways more so than generations that have adult memories of those times.
Much of the spin on this by those media outside of the dominant television duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca (who possess a frighteningly large market share of Mexican media attention in a land where only one percent of the population buys a daily newspaper) has been that the protest marches held in recent days are about the July 1 presidential elections. In part they are about that but they are also about larger matters. To put this moment in context, let’s look at why so many people presume that, through Peña Nieto, the dinosaurs are coming home to roost.
The PRI won back a majority in Congress in 2009 and after a dozen disappointing years of National Action Party (PAN, in its Spanish initials) presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón, their free-market ideologies and the violent drug war of the latter, the more bitter memories of repressive and corrupt PRI regimes have given way to more immediate problems of daily life for many Mexican citizens, especially those in poverty who miss the social programs that the government used to deploy to at least buy their votes.
The view from Mexico City, or from any university campus, can be deceiving. The PRI isn’t going to win in any of those places (although to provide an idea of its strong emphasis on organization, it is the only party that has had a local organizer actually ring doorbells in one of your writer’s neighborhoods). The electoral base of the PRI is “out there” in the provinces where poverty is so desperate that votes can be bought or rented, and where, in 2006, the theft of 1.5 million votes was accomplished to impose the PAN’s Calderón, orchestrated largely by opposition party governors of the PRI in places where the supporters of the real winner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, did not have the organization to prevent the fraud. And the techno-alchemists of the Federal Elections Institute (IFE, in its Spanish initials) polished off whatever the state governors couldn’t accomplish on their own. Whatever one thinks of AMLO, good or bad, it is documented and undeniable he won more votes in 2006 and that the presidency was stolen from the millions of people who voted for him.
Neither that, nor the big media sponsored “public opinion polls” that claim Peña Nieto is 20 percentage points ahead of López Obrador and the PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, guarantee him victory. Polling companies are a joke in Mexico, with their results for sale to the highest bidder. In 2006, most polls claimed López Obrador had been far behind when even the official results showed him in a virtual tie for the win.
And this brings us to July 1. Presuming that the IFE proclaims Peña Nieto as the winner, nobody who didn’t vote for him is going to believe it. The IFE’s credibility is non-existent to more than half the population. They watched the fraud unfold on election night six years ago and in the Keystone Cops counting and partial recounting simulation in the weeks that followed. Literally millions of Mexicans participated in the actions of “peaceful civil resistance” organized by López Obrador for all of July and August of 2006.
López Obrador and his supporters did some things well – their nonviolent and organized discipline was impressive, for example – but other things not so well. Many thought that López Obrador’s naming of himself as the “legitimate president” with the three-colored Mexican flag sash draped over his shoulder – complete with appointing his own “legitimate cabinet” – made the resistance more about him than the people’s vote.
One of those “cabinet” members, José Agustín Ortiz Pinchetti would later be interviewed by filmmaker Luis Mandoki for the movie “Fraude” – he appears 10 minutes and 37 seconds into this YouTube excerpt of the film with these words – and it is useful to reflect, six years later, on what he said:
“If we truly had wanted to turn the country on its head, with millions of people who were certain there had been fraud, simply by blocking the main highways and airports we would have provoked a crisis in capital letters.”
This was the justification made for having organized those millions to, instead, erect a tent city in Mexico City’s historic downtown area, including along the wide Reforma Avenue, for the month of August. That more symbolic action provoked daily traffic jams and inconveniences for city dwellers, but for the economic and governmental actors it was no more than a mild nuisance.
First the student assembly met in plenary session. Photo DR 2012 Isadora Bonilla
It is also possible that López Obrador was right. There is not a long tradition of organized nonviolent action in the country (the peace movement born in 2011 is the first explicitly nonviolent movement on a national level, ever). But it is also true that, in 2006, López Obrador had the resources and people power to conduct nonviolence training sessions for those millions, something that in other lands has empowered people to conduct highway blockades peacefully.
In fact, two years later, López Obrador did organize the training of fifty “brigades” to oppose the privatization of the nation’s oil supplies. They surrounded the Senate chambers for days on end, without incidence of violence. The comedienne and theater director Jesusa Rodríguez did a particularly exemplary job and saw to it that the use of theater and creativity was part of the work of the brigades. The model does therefore exist to train and prepare masses of people for more direct forms of nonviolent action. But it was a missed opportunity in 2006.
Imagining the scenarios for a post-electoral struggle, should the PRI be returned to power, there are two key dates: The elections are on July 1, and the new president takes possession in the first week of December. Six years ago that was a very precarious time period during which, particularly in the state of Oaxaca, the outgoing president Fox – who for all his faults did not, until then, have as much of a legacy as a violent repressor as his predecessors – paved Calderon’s entrance into power by sending federal police to crush the five-month-long popular assembly movement in Oaxaca that had chased the governor from the state. Weeks prior to Calderon’s inauguration, Fox “took one for the team,” sent his police en masse to beat, round up and imprison many of the Oaxacan organizers and participants, and thus did the dirty work that allowed Calderon to enter without that crisis.
It should be presumed that Calderon won’t hesitate to do the same for Peña Nieto should he be declared the victor. And in that scenario, both López Obrador and the YoSoy132 forces will have to make decisions about how and when to act against another simulated election. Storming the barricades on July 2 may sound satisfying to many, but five months of organizing and training mount a strategic and planned mass civil resistance starting the December day Peña Nieto would take office would rob from Peña Nieto the ability to use the lame duck Calderon as his enforcer. In any case, five months of organizing, be they brigades or cells, training and preparation would certainly produce a stronger resistance than a more spontaneous eruption could accomplish. Remember that the “Arab Spring” in Egypt didn’t begin in January 2011 and end in February. Five years strenuous neighborhood-to-neighborhood organizing, training and preparation had preceded the taking of Tahrir Square. And it defeated a thirty-year dictator whose zeal for repression made the Mexican regimes look like Bambi by comparison.
Much frustration with López Obrador even among many Mexicans who plan to vote for him on July 1 has its roots in the summer of 2006, the errors and the missed opportunities of a resistance that did not achieve its goal. And that has a lot to do with why young Mexicans in particular have been more drawn to an “Anti Peña Nieto” mobilization than open support for López Obrador, whose discourse is more that of a twentieth century political leader or statesman than many twenty-first century youths can get excited about.
While a great many of the YoSoy132 participants may well cast a vote for López Obrador a month from now (and others will not, and what is impressive is both tendencies have agreed to disagree on that point in order to unify for something more), if there is a post-electoral struggle against the illegitimacy of the elections, it will be more difficult for López Obrador to command it exclusively as he did in 2006. Yes, he will have his own millions of die-hard supporters waiting for instructions from their leader. But the YoSoy132 forces may well determine to conduct their own path of actions in response to a spurious and unfair electoral contest that returns the PRI to power.
Two major forces acting in the same political and social space of opposition to a regime or its policies often find tensions between them. That was certainly true in 2006 of the hostilities between the Zapatista Other Campaign and its Subcomandante Marcos on one hand and López Obrador, his coalition of political parties and supporters on the other. In 2011 and 2012 similar eruptions have occurred regularly between the peace movement inspired by Sicilia and the López Obrador forces. Part of this is just due to the different logic of an electoral left and a non-electoral left. Each has alliances and sectors that loathe and distrust certain alliances and sectors of the other’s coalition.
If there is to be a post-electoral struggle in 2012, both sectors would do well to recognize that neither is going to make the other disappear or irrelevant. The worst thing that could happen for both would occur if the competition for political space broke down into such severe squabbling that dialogue or communication between the two would become impossible. That’s when events will likely fly out of the control of either, a division that the state and economic interests – and their infiltrators in both camps – will know how to exploit to crush both. The idea, hopefully, will not be to relive 2006 or other years of failed battles, but to bypass them and move forward into the future.
Of the 16 workgroup tables, the smallest had at least 250 participants. Photo DR 2012 Isadora Bonilla.
Over the past dozen days, there have been more marches, accompanied by the usual emotion-filled alternative media coverage that accompanied other seemingly instant uprisings of the last two decades in Mexico. Many of the same activist groups that a year ago were attaching themselves like Post-It notes to the peace movement inspired by poet Javier Sicilia now have attached themselves, their slogans and their causes to YoSoy132.
Sicilia, who – with the exception of his May 28 dialogue with the presidential candidates – hasn’t received a fraction of the media attention in 2012 that his struggle received a year ago (a subject he explored in depth during his recent talk at the School of Authentic Journalism). He, too, walked on down to one of the recent marches carrying a “I am 132” placard. In the left’s penchant for an ever-changing “movement of the month,” these moments tend to come in and out of style like fashion trends; everybody is always looking to toss out the last fight and look for the next one. This is not how historic changes have ever been achieved.
Others of older generations of lefties waxed poetically through Facebook accounts on how inspiring the kids are in ways that previous generations once praised them when they were college-aged rebels. One exchange we saw on the social networks included a young organizer typing out a chant, “Alerta, alerta, alerta en camina, La lucha estudiantil por América Latina” (Alert! Alert! Alert on the move! The student struggle for Latin America!”) to which an older person replied, “Yay! The same chant I used when I was young!” While there is something to be said for paying tribute to movements and moments of years gone by, when the recipes and formulas of failed movements are repeated they also tend to bring the same result of failure.
After less than three weeks, what started out so young and strong has begun to pick up some of the ballast of same old things. Divisions – fomented both by egos and also by infiltrators, not just of the government, but also of ideological and interest groups and parties – have already begun their dirty work (one recent email that arrived in our inbox came from anonymous alleged students of the National University – once the epicenter of protest, with a more working-class student body than the Ibero – calling on people to take the struggle back from the youths of the elite colleges and universities). It is already easy at times to get the sinking feeling that this “movement-of-the-month” (a movement, by definition, must last the years it takes to organize real change, not mere months) might go the way of previous “trending topics” before it: that is, humiliating, crushing and painful defeat.
On Wednesday, May 30, more than six thousand students from universities all over Mexico met outdoors at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, in its Spanish initials) and got down to business. Without any of the “mic check” self-absorption of North American “occupy” protests last year, more than 150 designated spokespersons from so many campuses facilitated discussion and debate through real microphones. Participants were registered, their contact information was collected, and credentials were provided with the first and last name of each person large and visible. The same for press and observer credentials: At all moments one knew exactly with whom he and she were speaking.
Many student movements and strikes have happened in recent decades to save public education. But not since 1968 has Mexico had a national student movement dedicated to solve the problem of an entire regime and the media that props it up. Photo DR 2012 Isadora Bonilla.
Participants broke into sixteen work tables, each on a specific theme, including Media, Elections and Information, Organization of the Movement, Art and Culture, Science and Health, Violence and Repression, Post-Electoral Agenda, and more. The smallest work groups had more than 250 participants.
From those work groups came another plenary session where the first agreements were made. Those decisions now go to each campus to be voted on before June 5. The agreements include:
•The movement is independent of any political party and will denounce any media attempt to link it to one.
•The movement opposes media manipulation, especially that which tries to restore the old undemocratic system represented by Enrique Peña Nieto.
•It invites other movements who are harmed by current national policies to unite with the students.
•It is a rule of the movement to not engage in violent actions.
•The movement is opposed to neoliberal (free market) economic policies.
•The movement will monitor the elections, demand an additional presidential candidates debate and insist that all TV and radio stations broadcast the debates. It demands that the company Hildebrando be removed from its contract to count the votes (the same company was involved in the disgraced elections of 2006).
•The movement will keep itself organized to respond to any attempt at electoral fraud.
•The movement calls for the Armed Forces to be sent back to barracks and that the government cease to deploy it in the drug war. It also demands that President Felipe Calderon be put on trial for the crimes of that war, and that the officials of Chihuahua and the State of Mexico be punished for the notorious femicides that have murdered so many women in both states.
•The movement will create “a manual for mobilizations” and another manual for brigades.
•The movement expressed solidarity with many other movements and victims including a call for the freedom of political prisoners, the democratization of government and political party dominated labor unions, a raise in the minimum wage, a call for a National Agrarian Congress, and compliance with the San Andres Accords for indigenous autonomy, among others.
•Being a student movement, it also offers a detailed list of demands regarding the public education system in Mexico.
Among the words spoken during the assembly were, “we are the children and heirs of the crises and all the repressions of recent decades,” and “all 60,000 of Calderon’s dead are here with us today.” There were frequent calls to “get out from behind our computers” and organize directly among the people.
Predictably there were also the kinds of epithets of limited coherence that the TV stations that are the target of this movement made hay out of (“Stupid Calderon, whores, whores!”) and the response of others repeatedly asking those yelling such things to do things respectfully.
And on almost every matter and issue discussed at the gigantic assembly, whatever the issue was it tended to come back to the problem of media. That focus can also be seen in one of the newest videos posted on Thursday to the YoSoy132 web page, which already has English subtitles on it:
The video covers so many of the points mentioned above and ends with multiple declarations repeating, “For an authentic democracy, I am 132.”
It also calls on honest journalists and communicators nationally and internationally to report their steps. As authentic journalists, we are duty bound to answer and comply with that call.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism