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Mexico's Youth Uprising: How a Social Media-Powered Student Movement Upended the Presidential Election

Sick of repression and media bias, a growing student-led movement takes aim at the leading presidential candidate.

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#YoSoy132

The student movement was soon dubbed on Twitter and beyond as the #YoSoy132 movement--which translates to “I am 132,” a reference to everyone else beyond the 131 Ibero students being a supporter of the movement. It exploded like none other in recent times in Mexico. Support flowed throughout the country’s Internet veins as fast as the tweets that flew across Egypt that helped organize the anti-regime protests there.

EmeEquis, a bi-weekly, nationally distributed magazine in Mexico, put it best with one of its article headlines: “Mexico, yes, has a memory … what it didn’t have before was the Internet.”

Mass protest against Peña Nieto’s campaign was successfully organized through Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, with many attracting tens of thousands of people. T-shirts were made. Media outlets started saying that the opinion leaders of family households were not the parents, but the young students of the household. A new and youth-based mass movement was spawned. Nearly everyone in Mexico, so it seemed, wanted to be a #YoSoy132 supporter.

Students not only from Ibero, but from beyond, piped in on what inspired their participation. “We are sick of repression and killings and EPN represents a return to violence. Like in Atenco. And we are against the manipulation he has undertaken with the broadcast networks,” said Agueda Valenzuela, a student from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) satellite Acatlán campus, during a mass protest against Pena Nieto on June 10.

“We are trying to change the country and are protesting the monopoly of Televisa. The people are left with false impressions of the country and don’t know what is actually happening,” Teresa Beatris Nava, a 21-year-old biology student from UNAM, told AlterNet during a protest at Televisa’s offices.

The movement with spontaneous Internet roots made an almost instantaneous difference in the way the election was coming about, having literally cut Peña Nieto’s lead in half. At one point in early June, EPN’s lead was less than the margin of error of most polls.

But that was not all the movement achieved. Rodrigo, one of the founders of the movement, explained to me that the movement was on the cusp of organizing the country’s first independent presidential election debate. Weeks later, his efforts came to fruition. The main questioners behind the final debate of the presidential campaign were not mainstream journalists or election officials, but students.

Still, in spite of the impressive reach of the Ibero-inspired student movement, which by now has gone nationwide and has a sizable presence at nearly any major university, Peña Nieto is still positioned to win Sunday’s electoral contest. According to activists and media analysts, the reasons behind Peña Nieto’s survival of the onslaught cut to the very center of Mexico’s news media system.

EPN

Handsome, dashing and a skillful manager of crowds, Peña Nieto is a news media-friendly figure. Having recently married Angélica Rivera, a telenovela soap-opera star of the Televisa television network, Peña Nieto attracts a movie-star-like reaction from his fans.

The leading opposition candidate, Andres Manuel Obrador, is with the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which has long won mayorships in the nation’s largest city and capital, but never the presidency. Obrador has long attracted mass-movement-like support; on June 27, the last official day of campaigning, he managed to overflow Mexico City’s historic downtown center-plaza with over 200,000 impassioned supporters. In contrast, Peña Nieto’s (admittedly smaller) gatherings are more akin to stage-managed events that play up celebrity-like admiration and adoring fans.

In front of this challenge, Peña Nieto continued to rely on Mexico’s mainstream news media in a way that has firmly positioned him to win the election.