By Arturo Garcia Arellano/Fundacion MEPI
Mexico City -- Until a few months ago, two out of every ten Mexican university students paid little attention to politics, according to a poll conducted by Fundacion MEPI, an independent investigative journalism project based in Mexico City.
It all changed on May 11, today known as "Black Friday". After that day university students mobbed the streets in protests and joined politics in a different way.
The man who woke them up is presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto from the former ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), whom until that moment had a clear landslide win in the July 1 elections. The PRI ruled the country uninterrupted for 70 years until 2000.
Some Mexicans saw its possible return to power, in a markedly predictable electoral campaign, with resignation. Like many other countries that have experienced transitions to democracy after long one party systems, some people see the return of the PRI as the answer to Mexico's tough economic times and a bloody war that was started by current President Felipe Calderon, of the Partido Accion Nacional, a right of center party.
On that May day, Peña Nieto visited students at the Universidad Iberoamericana, an exclusive Jesuit university in the upper class neighborhood of Santa Fe in west Mexico City.
Until then he had mostly concentrated his political activities with safe audiences, and had refused to meet with students at various universities. He had cancelled a visit to the Ibero previously. Peña Nieto as many other Mexican politicians often ignored youth voters, according to Colegio de Mexico professor, Manuel Gil Anton: "They don't see their usefulness, and youth do not like politicians".
Peña Nieto and his handlers arranged for a normal presentation at the Ibero. Two other political candidates had already spoken before the students in the previous weeks without any negative reaction.
His appearance ignited a spark, however.
When he finished and tried to leave, student protesters pinned him against the wall outside the auditorium. There were banners against the PRI. Some students were wearing masks of former president Salinas de Gortari, a controversial PRI former president. Others had painted their hands red in memory of a 2006 bloody confrontation between heavily armed government troops and unarmed peasants, that occurred when Peña Nieto was governor, in the town of Atenco, state of Mexico.
The PRI was rattled. Immediately the party's secretary general, Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, disqualified the student event and claimed the participants were manipulated by outside forces and did not genuinely represent the Universidad Iberoamericana.
They tried to spin the event in their favor. A newspaper chain, El Sol, published the next day a story with the headline: "Peña Nieto, a success at the Ibero, despite attempts to boycott his presentation." The student response did not take long.
One by one, 131 Ibero students who had participated in the face off with the candidate recorded themselves with minicams in front of their computers. While flashing their university I.D. cards and spelling out their names, they rejected Coldwell's remarks. The eleven-minute video was put up on YouTube.
The YoSoy132 (IAm132) movement was born.
The number represents every other Mexican university student who comes out in support of the original protesters.
The main characteristic of the YoSoy132 is that its organizers are young and communicate through social networks. Like the movements from Chile and Québec, it has showed the youth their power to rise up and be recognized even in the traditional media.
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