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Transcend the Electoral Conjuncture

As the grandees of the transnational capitalist class of the G20 prepared to meet in the municipality of Los Cabos in the Mexican state of Baja Califonia Sur to discuss global economic crisis, a rather different VIP came to address students, academics, and activists in Mexico. This was the figure of Camila Vallejo, Vice President of the Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (FECh) and also a member of the youth arm of the Communist Party of Chile, the Juventudes Comunistas de Chile (JJCC). Addressing audiences gathered at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) – Xochimilco and elsewhere in Mexico City, Camila Vallejo has provided a significant moment to reflect further on the struggles led by student movements in Chile, Mexico, and throughout Latin America, as also detailed on my personal blog site.

It should be recalled that across 2011 to 2012 massive student-led protests in Chile, dubbed the ‘Chilean Winter’ (in particular reference to the massive protests of August 2011), were conducted. These were based on the demand for a new framework for education in Chile. More direct state participation in secondary education was sought as well as an end to the existence of profit in higher education. As a result, Vallejo was catapulted to the centre stage of these protests in Chile that have ‘presided over the biggest citizen democracy movement since the days of opposition marches to General Augusto Pinochet a generation ago’, according to the Guardian. Yet the conditions of marketisation across higher and further education are just one example of the roll-out of neoliberalism throughout the world. In Chile, as The Economist details, student tuition fees account for 80 percent of spending on higher education; hence the ‘mass popular protest, and the huge public sympathy it aroused, took the centre-right [Renovación Nacional] government of Sebastián Piñera by surprise, leaving it floundering’. The aim of the Chilean students since has been to establish a broader movement drawing in regional protests across Latin America.

At the UAM Xochimilco meeting, Vallejo called for the unity of social movements across Latin America. ‘We claim our history’, she stated, ‘We are heirs to many other generations who fought for full democracy’, as reported in La Jornada. At subsequent public meetings, held at the Monument to the Revolution and the Zócalo in Mexico City, Vallejo also called on the YoSoy132 movement to ‘transcend the electoral conjuncture’ in Mexico as part of a wider social and political transformation. While the student protests in Mexico have provided an example of commitment and struggle for dignity, she affirmed, the fight will also be long and difficult.

In a text on the dialogue of movements, read out at the meeting convened at the Monument to the Revolution and authored by Pablo González Casanova – former rector of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the key emphasis was on how past emancipation movements have added to the student protests. The Chilean movement and those in Mexico, in González Casanova’s words, ‘form part of a worldwide movement that began in Mexico in 1994 with the Mayan peoples of the southeast, known as the Zapatistas, whose motto is precisely: “Freedom, Justice, Democracy”’.

Where does the call to arms to transcend the electoral conjuncture and build regional links across Latin America leave YoSoy132 in Mexico? The student movement may draw strength in the country from wider frustration with the drugs war, given that Mexico’s nascent ‘Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity’ has also signalled support for YoSoy132. The student movement itself has also posted a renewed statement in the form of its second online manifesto. The elections on July 1, 2012 will also have a big influence in shaping the conjuncture. There are additionally a number of satellite groups springing up worldwide, including in Chicago, San Francisco, and ‘WeAre132’ in the UK.

Although beyond the scope of detailed discussion here, the challenges ahead for YoSoy132 may well involve those confronting social movements more generally, as detailed in my book Revolution and State in Modern Mexico. These can be grasped as the need to navigate the extremes of ‘horizontalism’, or changing the world without taking state power, and strict ‘verticalism’, or capturing state power as a vehicle for political transformation. It would be misleading to characterise the former stress as a ‘no-power’ approach to social change just as much as it would be remiss to underestimate the tangible forms of collective action based on organisation-building. As the prominent activist-scholar Gustavo Esteva has noted in an essay ‘Another Perspective, Another Democracy’, autonomous movements’ struggles are not a counterweight to state power but an attempt to render the latter superfluous through ‘new reformulations of the nature of the state’.

¡La Lucha Sigue!

Adam David Morton

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