|English | Español||April 17, 2014 | Issue #67|
The Medium Was the Message in the #YoSoy132 Debate in Mexico
A Student Movement Exposes that Democracy’s Biggest Enemy Is the Media
By Al Giordano
A Tale of Two Debates: On the right, the first presidential debate organized by Mexico’s Federal Elections Institute (IFE) began with the appearance of a former Playboy centerfold. On the left, students held their own presidential debate that was boycotted by all Mexican TV stations and candidate Enrique Peña Nieto.
That presidential candidates Andrés Manuel López Obrador of a center-left coalition of parties, Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN, in its Spanish initials) and Gabriel Quadri of a small party organized by teacher’s union boss Elba Esther Gordillo attended the students’ debate is a sign of the moral authority the youths have gained in public opinion since May 11 when the movement erupted. Some traditional campaign news was made at the event: All three candidates said they supported the students’ call for more democracy in television and other media (candidate López Obrador offered detailed proposals for the government to support independent media and break the duopoly of the two national networks Televisa and TV Azteca), and the candidates displayed sharp differences over whether the nationalized oil company PEMEX would remain fully publicly owned. After the debate, Quadri told reporters that it was the best, “most substantive” debate of the campaign.
The bigger story, however, is how the very existence of Mexico’s first-ever presidential debate to be independent of federal agencies and major media companies exposed, in a single night, the urgency of the movement’s call to democratize the media. TV Azteca and Televisa own scores of TV stations throughout the Republic. Not one broadcast the debate. (The pretext given was that candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party – PRI, in its Spanish initials – refused to participate, but that didn’t stop the networks, six years ago, from broadcasting a debate that López Obrador declined citing the unfairness of the media companies that hosted it.)
The YoSoy132 debate was live-streamed on YouTube, which reported that 90,000 viewers tuned in. Apparently 90,000 is the number of people that it takes to overrun YouTube’s system and cause a livestream to crash. All night long, thousands of desperate Twitter and social media messages complained that they couldn’t see the debate or even hear it where the audio was being broadcast. The website of Radio Educación in Mexico City (the closest thing Mexico has to National Public Radio in format) crashed within minutes of the debate’s start due to the volume of traffic by people seeking to hear the debate. So did various other university and community radio station websites and live audio streams across the Internet. On this list of 13 online and radio media airing the debate, every single one crashed at various points during the evening.
The public demand for this independently organized debate was so great that it exceeded the technical capacity of the sum of all alternative media throughout Mexico to meet that demand. And left, standing naked, were the mass media companies, exposed for their refusal to provide what the public so passionately wants: Information instead of spin and intentional falsehood. The resentment against the dominant media was palpable here in the Narco News room, where 16 journalists and YoSoy132 participants joined to watch the debate, many of them posting, sharing and coordinating their Twitter and social network messages.
Truth is, many of the 90,000 browsers registered by YouTube were hooked up to TV screens and projectors, including on Mexico City’s Zócalo and other city squares and university plazas throughout the country. The hashtag #DebateYoSoy132 rocketed to the top of trending topics on the Internet and remains atop the day after.
It was a different kind of crash of the system than that of election night 1988 when the Interior Minister went on national TV to say that the vote counting computers that had shown left candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in the lead had broken. “The system fell,” he said. And when the computers were rebooted PRI candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari was declared the winner. He immediately received a congratulatory call from then-US president George H.W. Bush.
The “fall of the system of 2012” came, conversely, from the outside looking in: The crash of public confidence in a simulacrum of democracy imposed by the mass media.
The shared experience of so many Mexicans last night – the 90,000 cited by YouTube, the people gathered at each screen to watch, and all those who tried to tune in but could not because the rest of Mexico’s media bandwidth is owned by a very few who boycotted the debate – cemented the consensus that the 2012 presidential election is neither free, nor fair, with false pay-for-results polls trumpeted by biased and hostile media companies. Essentially, the events of last night mean that if on July 1 the IFE declares Peña Nieto the winner, a nonviolent army of Mexicans is not going to swallow it.
Already throughout the Internet photos, videos and eyewitness reports increase each day of excess ballots distributed by the IFE in PRI strongholds, ballots already found and photographed marked with votes for the PRI candidate, videos of government warehouses filled with consumer products – blenders, bicycles, TVs, children’s toys, etcetera – that are traditionally exchanged for votes and even for voter credentials to be used fraudulently. The political climate of the nation is increasingly poisoned by violent acts by gangs of men of the PRI (in one recent incident, hundreds were bused in, given 650 peso tickets to a soccer game, each also given 500 pesos in cash – a $90-dollar value, not including the buses – to violently attack 40 students who had put up a giant Yo Soy 132 banner in the bleacher seats).
Peña Nieto even staged a fake attack on his motorcade by a gang of men in Tepeaca, Puebla last week, and the mass media blamed it on YoSoy132 (which immediately disassociated itself from all violent acts). By nightfall the video of the event had been dissected to prove that the false attackers were known members of the PRI in that town. But none of the social media corrections of these fraudulent acts of pseudo-journalism are ever corrected by Televisa, TV Azteca and the rest of the media that repeat them.
During last night’s debate, which one could at least hear on the radio while surfing from website to website trying to get a visual feed that did not crash, one could even sense the frustration of candidates Vasquez Mota of the PAN and the also-ran Quadri. Both know they haven’t got a prayer to win. They are in it as part of the divide and conquer strategy of Mexico’s rulers. Vazquez Mota has been abandoned by her own party’s president Calderón and the previous PAN president Vicente Fox has endorsed the PRI candidate. If they were honest players in this game they would have put their power rings together with that of López Obrador – the only rival to Peña Nieto with the support and national organization that can defeat him – and those of the YoSoy132 movement and come together for the common good to prevent the triumph of forces they all know are evil. But that would be a fairy tale version of history.
Either López Obrador has an effective organization and plan to prevent the theft of the 1.5 million votes stolen from him in 2006 to impose Calderón by a slim margin – and nobody will know if he does until election night – or the history of election fraud that already swept Mexico in 1988 and 2006 is on the doorstep of repetition.
This time, however, a third force is assembling, through the YoSoy132 movement, and has called the bluff of fake elections. Last night’s boycott of its debate by the mass media it opposes only made its participants more determined to end this simulation.
Also yesterday, one group in the movement that is organizing a major concert on Saturday with Panteon Rococo, Los de Abajo and other national music groups, called for volunteers to write to firstname.lastname@example.org responding to the question “What is Nonviolent Resistance to You?” to “receive free training on Strategies of Nonviolent Resistance.”
And on Monday, another offshoot of the movement had its first organizing meeting for the formation of “Operative Groups” (GO, in its Spanish initials) as autonomous entities that agree to abide by the agreements already made in the YoSoy132 assemblies and design thousands of independent actions. Those guidelines are: That Enrique Peña Nieto and what he represents must be stopped, that it must be done nonviolently, and that the media has to be democratized. “The GOs act inside of that framework – and adapt to new consensuses as they occur – to implement concrete actions.”
Answering the question of “What can GOs do?” the initiative answers:
1) They are able to act with speed based on agreements already made; 2) They foment that the members of #YoSoy132, regardless of what school they attend or if they are students, get to know each other by working together; 3) They generate practical experience that strengthens the movement; 4) They allow members no matter how small their involvement to participate and contribute to direct actions of the movement; 5) They allow the members to construct effective action units that can survive the movement in the case that it is dismantled; 6) They promote trust among individuals, their mutual defense and their capacity for coordinated joint action.
They have turned the enemy’s strength against it. The first impulse of the Mexican State, its security apparatus, and its media is to divide and dissipate social movements, discrediting their leaders, and frightening public opinion over alleged violent tendencies of protesters. YoSoy132 is now a national laboratory constructing a model of a movement whose power comes from being decentralized, nonviolent and without need or desire to curry favor with a mass media that always betrays every social movement in the country.
Anybody who presumes this is going to end after the July 1 elections is either an overly optimistic defender of a corrupt system or an overly pessimistic critic. This doesn’t stop on July 1. That’s when it really begins.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism