Interview: #Yosoy132 Organizer Valeria Hamel
Editor's Note: CPR’s Andrea S. Viejo had the opportunity to converse with Valeria Hamel, one of the spokespeople of the #YoSoy132 student movement in Mexico advocating for freedom of the press. She gave us insight into the upbringing of this movement and what it was like to organize the first independent student run presidential debate in the history of Mexico ahead of the July 1 election. Valeria is a 22-year-old law student at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México born into a Mexican and German family of university professors. She is an alumna of the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore and a spokesperson for the organization in Mexico. Valeria has lived in Germany, India, Argentina, Buenos Aires, and Chiapas while volunteering in different service projects. Among her strongest academic interest are criminal law and the politics behind the criminalization of those involved in organized crime. Last month, her life took an unexpected twist with the rise of the #YoSoy132 movement.
CPR: How did you get involved in the Yosoy132 movement? What are your particular responsibilities and in what activities have you collaborated?
VH: I got involved in the #Yosoy132 movement through my university. It was after the media manipulated what happened when the presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) went to the Iberoamerican University. Thousands of students protested against him and then uploaded their videos on Youtube. Meanwhile, the media said that the people involved in the protest where “acarreados y porros” (recruited and paid participants to protest) and that his visit had actually been a success. In response, the students involved made a video in which 131 students showed their university credential identifying themselves as protestors and denied what the media claimed. We, the students from ITAM, knew that we couldn’t leave our fellow friends alone and undermine the incident. Therefore, the Friday afterwards, we organized a demonstration from our university to Televisa San Ángel (Media monopoly in Mexico). Ibero did the same, but to another one of Televisa’s facilities. After this, we knew that we couldn’t stay silent and allow Mexico to continue through the road of destruction. We had to organize ourselves and unite with other students in order to fight towards democratizing the media and fighting its dual monopoly.
I am a spokesperson of #YoSoy132 ITAM, my local assembly which enable me to engage myself in the construction of the original structure of the movement. I was also part of La Coordinadora, which was the original group that led the movement before it properly organized itself in the First National Assembly of Representatives. Additionally, I formed part of the legal committee of the independent presidential debate organized by the #YoSoy132 movement and helped out during its organization. Currently, I am coordinating the week long campaign before the elections titled “6 días para salvar a México” (six days to save Mexico) which encourages people to go out and vote and helping create the videos for the campaign.
However, I’ve been involved in all sorts of activities that the movement has organized. I’ve been spokesman in all of the National Assemblies of Representatives #YoSoy132, I’ve imparted interviews to the media, and participated in the demonstrations and music festivals. Overall, I’ve been working all day long, sleeping 4 hours a day, eating granola bars, and drinking energy drinks and coffee in order to successfully canalize it all.
CPR: In a few sentences, how would you summarize the philosophy behind YoSoy132?
VH: #YoSoy132 is a permanent, peaceful, nonpartisan, plural, and student based movement, that has as an objective to democratize the Mexican Media and encourage civil political participation in the country, while functioning as a system of checks and balances for the government to take into account the interests of the people.
CPR: When do you think this movement became official? What was the key event in its development?
VH: The movement sparked up after the video made by 131 students from Ibero became viral and in response, students from all over the country rose up in support announcing that they were the 132th student. That is why the movement is called #YoSoy132 or I am 132.
CPR: When did student groups join for the first time?
VH: Students from different universities started announcing their support through social networking sites using the hashtag #YoSoy132, helping the movement gain popularity. Furthermore, the two initial demonstrations outside of Televisa marked the beginning of a movement that became public. However, the next demonstration at the Ángel de la Independencia (one of Mexico City’s key sites) was the moment in which students from all universities, both private and public, got together for the first time. This established a link between them, which was highlighted by the effective use of the Internet, Facebook and Twitter as a means to coordinate each other. Days after, students met in Tlatelolco (a park emblematic for the 1968 student protests and shootings) to organize the movement. It was then that “La Coordinadora”, the original group of students leading the organization was created. It was formed by a group of 25 students representing various universities. Our first assembly took place at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, and everyone was invited. Participants divided themselves into different topics, which we then developed into the different objectives of the movement.
CPR: Once meeting in the assemblies, how did this collaboration and organization develop?
VH: The main decision making organ is the National Assembly of Representatives. It is composed by two delegates from each local assembly, which together have one vote. We now have about 150 national assemblies represented. In the National Assembly of Representatives we discuss only the main issues concerning the movement, such as its organic and dogmatic structure, the declaration of principles, common goals, etc. There is also another organ, which is head of coordination and is made up by different committees that obey directly the National Assembly of Representatives. These committees are security, logistics, and communication (so far).
CPR: Are you content with the progress of the movement thus far? Many praise the Chilean student uprising for their focus in their ultimate goals and their ability to voice them clearly, while many criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement for a lack of aim and direction. Where do you think the Yosoy132 movement stands in relation?
VH: I am very content with the progress of the movement so far. We have an organization, which allows the movement to be permanent and effective. The movement is only a month and a half old, and so far we have managed to wake up the youth of the country, which had been asleep for many years. We have scared and made tremble the biggest powers that control Mexico, letting them know that they cannot get away with doing whatever they please any longer. We are here, we are organized and we demand our place in society.
We have had plenty of success: demanding that the second official Presidential debate is transmitted through national television, organizing our own independent student run presidential debate (Debate132), and registering over 3000 election observers for the upcoming elections on July 1st.
I think the relation between our movement, Occupy Wall Street, and the Chileans is that the youth around the globe is waking up. However, the three movements have different objectives and structures.
CPR: Why did you guys take the stance to not allow any television corporations transmit the independently organized debate (Debate132)?
VH: Because of security reasons. The “estado mayor presidencial” (Presidential security) did not allow more people into the room. Also, having 150 video cameras would have been logistically inoperable for us. The plan was to have a central taping of the debate which would be transferred through Youstream. This normally tends to be very successful. However, the Internet in Mexico proved to be too weak, and the audience response was unbelievable, so the signal crashed.
CPR: How did you guys deal with the system crash? Where were you when it happened? What was speculated or stated about it?
VH: I got the news after the debate was over. I was seated next to the notary three meters away from the candidates.
CPR: In Mexico, more people have access to a TV than they do to the Internet, especially within the most elderly population. How could these factors take away from the attempted democratization of the YoSoy132 independently organized debate?
VH: The TV companies were not willing to stream the event until a few hours before the debate. This is something that the media never told the public. The weak before the debate we encouraged these companies to show the debate to allow for proper negotiation. We pressured them through Twitter and even organized demonstrations outside their companies. The companies who did finally did accept showed their interest the final hours before the debate.
CPR: Why did you think Peña Nieto refused to participate in the debate? What do you think about this?
VH: I think he refused to participate because he was scared that he has a lot to hide. He said that he did not want to attend because the movement had declared itself “anti-Peña” and thus the debate would be biased. However, it was an impartial debate and we explained to him the debate’s unbiased structure.
I think not going to the debate was a very bad decision, because he proved that he cannot adhere to promises. When the anti-Peña movements started, Peña Nieto aired a commercial announcing that he would govern and be open to dialogue with everyone, even with those who did not share his ideas. Moreover, the audience of this debate wasn’t merely #YoSoy132, but the whole of the Mexican population, and they have the right to dialogue with who might end up being Mexico’s future president. How is someone supposed to govern a country if he does not have the guts to talk to the youth?
Click here for more on the 2012 Mexican presidential election