MEXICO: Youth on the Front Lines of Protest Movement

A Saturday gathering of young people from the Occupy Mexico movement at the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City.  - Daniela Pastrana/IPS
A Saturday gathering of young people from the Occupy Mexico movement at the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City. - Daniela Pastrana/IPS
  • by Daniela Pastrana (mexico city)
  • Inter Press Service

A native of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca and an active participant in social struggles since 2006, Jiménez is now part of a pacifist movement headed up by poet Javier Sicilia, aimed at demanding a change in the military security strategy adopted by the government of conservative Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

On Oct. 15, he and a group of other young Mexicans joined the global Indignados/Occupy movement of protesters who are 'indignant' over the effects of the economic policies that have led to the profound crisis affecting much of the world, and particularly the countries of the North.

'My family is ready to disown me because I didn’t go home for Christmas, but we need to be here,' Jiménez told IPS during a long conversation, surrounded by mice, on a cold Mexico City night.

The camp, set up on the main avenue of the Mexican capital, has attracted young people aligned with a wide diversity of causes, including anarchists, environmentalists, pacifists and members of the Movement for National Regeneration, led by leftist former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Most are university students, but there are also staff members from the Mexican Senate, located nearby, a reporter from a local newspaper whose employers have forbidden him from appearing in any protest-related photographs or interviews, and a chef from a major downtown hotel, who asked to take holiday leave in order to serve as the camp’s official cook.

But not everyone stays. Mexico City’s 'indignant' movement is a floating population largely connected through online social networks, with its base in two protest camps.

One is the camp outside the Mexico City Stock Exchange, where activities have a decidedly political slant, and visitors have included renowned academics like philosopher Enrique Dussel and Edgardo Buscaglia, a United Nations adviser on security issues.

The other has been set up in the Coyoacán district of Mexico City, historically a neighbourhood of artists and intellectuals. Here the activities are more 'playful' and creative, such as the development of a barter-based system.

'We are trying to build organisational alternatives where the power truly lies with the citizens,' mechatronic engineer Miguel Barousse, 26, told IPS at the Coyoacán camp. 'We don’t handle money, we only accept donations in kind, and we try to keep the camp clean and orderly.'

In Mexico there are more than seven million young people who neither work nor study, and of these, 78 percent are women, according to figures from the ministries of education and labour.

Mexico has the third highest rate of unemployment among people aged 15 to 29, after Turkey and Brazil, among all the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — which groups the world’s industrialised nations - according to the OECD report Education at a Glance 2011, released in September.

But unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities are not the only problems faced by Mexican youth. They are also disproportionately affected by the wave of violence sweeping across Mexico.

Reports from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography reveal that the number of male homicide victims aged 15 to 29 increased 154 percent between 2007 and 2009, while the number of women murdered rose by 89 percent.

Although these figures do not capture the even higher number of violent deaths recorded in more recent years, they nevertheless rank homicide as the main cause of death for Mexicans in this age bracket, far ahead of motor vehicle accidents, the second leading cause.

It is realities like these that have led young Mexicans to begin to organise. Some have done so spontaneously, like Aldo García, a 24-year-old history student who got together with a group of friends to travel around to different city squares and collect proposals. Their method is simple: they set up a blackboard and ask people to write an idea or proposal, then take a photo of it and post it on social network sites.

'The idea is to collect as many pictures as we can and then display them in street exhibitions,' García told IPS while passing through Mexico City, where he was photographing a group of young people gathered at the Monument to the Revolution.

The subjects of his photos were members of the México Toma la Calle (Occupy Mexico) collective, which was formed before Oct. 15 and organises activities such as public 'hug days'.

'We want people out on the streets to interact, not just to consume,' explained a young woman from the collective’s media team, who asked to be identified, like the other members, as the character created for the media: 'Tomás Calles' (Occupy Streets), a play on words based on the name of the group itself.

'There is massive indignation, which isn’t expressed through mobilisation, a time bomb that hasn’t exploded, in large part because the media have succeeded in getting into people’s heads and fragmenting efforts,' said another group member.

As part of this movement, on Nov. 26 and 27 dozens of university students, campesino (peasant farmer) representatives, trade unionists and human rights activists gathered in Mexico City to define a strategy for joint actions.

The so-called Youth Camp on the National Disaster and Emergency issued a declaration which established two main priorities: the strengthening of social movements in all regions and the creation of their own media.

'It is up to us not to replicate the practices and means that have blocked social change,' the declaration states.

'We recognise as a basic form of coordination and forging links with local populations the occupation of public spaces to draw the community into debates, using the tools of popular education and liberating art to generate active hope, as an engine of human happiness,' it adds.

The murder of two students in the southern state of Guerrero at the hands of the police and the discovery of the bodies of four high school students reported missing in Jalisco were a dramatic illustration of the threats faced by young protesters in this country.

'It’s not easy. We’re used to following figureheads, so it’s hard to understand a horizontal movement without leaders, where all decisions are made by consensus. But this is a process, and one we hope will continue to grow and multiply,' said Barousse at the camp in Coyoacán.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service