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What can be done with a polarised Mexico after the elections?

Democracy in Mexico is in a permanent state of construction and it will continue as such after the presidential elections of the 1st of July. Español

Volunteer Grecia Ricart (front) raises her fist signaling silence during survivor rescue work in a collapsed building after an earthquake at Mexico City, on Sept. 22, 2017. Picture: [e]David de la Paz/Xinhua /PA Images. All rights reserved

This article forms part of the special “Mexico Elections 2018: depolarisation and disinformation” produced in partnership with Revista Nueva Sociedad in the framework of our project #EleccionesAbiertas2018 

The political parties of Mexico seem to have endorsed the triumph of the divide et impera (divide and rule) political strategy ahead of citizens taking to the polls on the 1st of July.

Polarisation in the political and civil sphere in Mexico increases on a daily basis, only days from elections that will determine a new president, new governors, 628 legislators and more that 17,000 local politicians. 

On social media, arguments and disagreements between friends and family are played out in the public eye. The reason for such disputes? The election of a presidential candidate.

Selecting a governor, especially if that individual is to rule the country as president for the next six years, is a crucial decision. But has this bad blood, and these broken ties, been of any benefit to Mexico throughout this campaign?

We’re all acting as if the country will come to an end on the 1st of July, but we’re conveniently forgetting that afterwards, what will remain is a country that we must keep building the following day.

Polarisation doesn’t just poison the workplace, but also friendships and family relationships. It undermines democracy not just in the context of the elections but also out with them.

There are many legitimate reasons as to why polarisation exists: it is through the very process of distinguishing ourselves from "the other" that we create an identity, and that is why we attack whoever calls that identity into question.

But who does this benefit? Ultimately, the parties and the candidates. It benefits them because we put on their t-shirts, we defend them, we distance ourselves from those we think differently and from critical voices that question their actions. We shut ourselves off in an echo-chamber with others who think like ourselves. 

Polarisation doesn’t just poison the workplace, but also friendships and family relationships. It undermines democracy not just in the context of the elections but also out with them. It makes us forget that election day is just a small fragment of the huge democratic exercise. Everyday political participation is what really gives citizens the power to own our space, and this is true democracy (demos = people, cracia = power). 

It is for these reasons that Mexicans exceeded the authorities on the 19th of September when an earthquake that measured 7.1 on the Richter scale ravaged Mexico City and Puebla. That day, Mexicans didn’t think in political colours, but about the neighbour down the road who was trapped under blocks of cement and rubble. 

Fists rose to the air and silence reigned. There were no words, just silence that sharpened our ears and ignited hope. A fist in the air meant hope, it was a sign that the rescue workers had found a survivor underneath the rubble. 

People reacted before politicians (for whom we’re currently tearing each other apart in order to defend or attack them), before the army, and before the Red Cross. The ground was still moving when we realised we had to get out there and lift-up the rubble. The death toll was not yet public when anyone who could offer their help to ensure the toll stopped rising did so.

The owner of the tool shop on Calle Sonora took out his entire inventory to the streets (from hammers to wheelbarrows) to assist the rescue efforts. Or the street food vendor who gave his food away to the volunteers so that they didn’t collapse out of exhaustion. There were even mariachi bands who took to the streets with their music, to ignite the tired hopes of those battling against the clock to help as many as they could. 

There were even mariachi bands who took to the streets with their music, to ignite the tired hopes of those battling against the clock to help as many as they could. 

On that very day, when 400 people took to the streets of Mexico City, there was more democracy than there has been throughout this electoral campaign. From now up until election day, will we be conscious of this? Will we remember the calls made for people to stay inside because there were already too many in the streets? 

The 19th of September was a lesson in democracy, when the collective will overcame that of the individual. It was nine months ago, but throughout this electoral race, it has seemed more like nine years.

Polarisation, on the contrary, is completely antidemocratic, as it is based on the invalidation of the opinions, the feelings and aspirations of “the other” in order to privilege one’s own.

Mexico, a different story 

The Mexican history books tell us that we became independent from Spain in the year 1821 (after 11 years of war) and that we were freed from our last dictator at the beginning of the 20th century.

However, whoever has the opportunity to dig deeper into Mexican history will see that the National Revolutionary Party (PRI) arrived to power in 1929 and the “perfect dictatorship” as coined by Mario Vargas Llosa was established.

The PRI dominated Mexican politics until 2000, when political alternation finally arrived in Mexico after seven decades of one-party hegemony. Although Mexico in technical terms constituted a democratic republic almost two centuries ago, for many that saw the situation from up-close, democracy is a novelty that is less than 20 years young.

In Mexico, there are areas where the levels of development are similar to Norway or New Zealand (Mexico City and Monterrey) and others where the levels of development are closer to Djibouti or the Democratic Republic of Congo (Guerrero, Chihuahua).

In other words, being sceptical, doubting the power of the voter, is not a mere tale from another dimension. There are reasons for the mistrust. However, there are no reasons to live in a state of doubt. 

One way to maintain polarisation is to vote thinking of the candidate that strives to maintain the status quo, while 60 million Mexicans live below the poverty line (without access to adequate food, housing or an education), while 25 thousand Mexicans are murdered every year and 99% of these homicides are unpunished, while the inequality gap negotiates between two very different worlds only united by their birth certificates and the national flag.

Polarisation doesn’t just exist because it represents two or more visions, but because there is more than a country within Mexico. In Mexico, there are areas where the levels of development are similar to Norway or New Zealand (Mexico City and Monterrey) and others where the levels of development are closer to Djibouti or the Democratic Republic of Congo (Guerrero, Chihuahua) according to the UN Human Development Index.

One of the reasons for this polarisation is that there are two different Mexicos, but accentuating this with violent communications during the electoral period doesn’t solve anything, on the contrary, it only increases the gaps.

In order for the distances not to distance themselves so much, we can’t expect “the other” to change their position. If we really want to reduce polarisation, it’s important to recognise the value of the opinions of others, the significance of divergence of thought, the enrichment of diversity in all its shapes and forms.

What’s more, it’s important to not just validate the opinion of “the other” but to value it (would this be so much to ask?), to not face the ballot thinking of proposals that offer the biggest personal benefit but those which can further the collective good. Only through furthering the collective good can nations develop themselves. 

It is the terrible inequalities, ingrained in our society for centuries, that strengthens the idea that “the other” is a dehumanised being, unable to understand their own needs. 

“If the rights I have are not available to all then they are not rights but privileges” says Mexican political scientist José Merino. And it’s true. It is the terrible inequalities, ingrained in our society for centuries, that strengthens the idea that “the other” is a dehumanised being, unable to understand their own needs. Is it not the case though that this only brings to light an inability to walk in another’s shoes?

Polarisation: a breeding ground for fake news

Fake news has been around since the beginning of time, but what has turned them into a danger for society has been their speedy virilisation over social media.

In the past, a fake news story about a candidate (regarding electoral terrain) could take days, months or perhaps even years to read a wide audience. Now, we see rumours elevated to the same level as absolute truths in a matter of minutes thanks to sharing functions on social media.

Polarisation and fake news work as a team. One feeds the other so that they can continue to grow. Many who share fake news stories are conscious of their lack of informational reliability or are at least unsure if they’re true or not, however this doesn’t stop them from sharing as doing so reaffirms their own beliefs.

Like never before, these up and coming elections have seen the creation of online portals and Facebook pages dedicated solely to spreading fake news.

Fake news lives on thanks to polarisation, and polarisation is reaffirmed through the rumours that spread like wildfire through social networks, weaving between both a bridge that increases the distances between members of society. 

Like never before, these up and coming elections have seen the creation of online portals and Facebook pages dedicated solely to spreading fake news.

The initiative Verificado 2018, the biggest fact checking initiative in Mexico with around 90 members (among which are media outlets and civil organisations) have given themselves the task of disproving fake news on social media, so that they can avoid the scenario where fake news plays a significant role in the elections by inclining the result towards a particular candidate.

The day after

Our democratic right won’t be exercised on the 1st of July as though it’s the product of one day of work. Democracy is in a permanent state of construction and it will continue in that state even after the elections have passed.

On the 2nd of July, when all Mexicans wake up without a reason to fight each other because political differences will have been left at the polls, we’ll awaken with a hangover of hatred, of otherness, from which we should be able to wake up but it would be much easier if the reconciliation started from now.

With this idea in mind, a group of Mexican public figures, among them actors, journalists, academics and cinematographers, have called for national reconciliation through the project “El día después”. Some of the individuals included are Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Guillermo del Toro, Lydia Cacho, Julieta Venegas, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Valeria Luiselli, and many more.

The initiative invites Mexicans to join the movement and champion the following 12 points: 

  1. Peace and tolerance are not a dream: they should be our reality.
  2. No to racism and classism. No to a country that excludes those with disabilities. We are all equal and we should thus be treated equally. The “other” is not your enemy, the “other” is your companion.
  3.  I exercise a critical attitude towards those who govern us, regardless of my political affiliation and of theirs.
  4. Corruption kills, ravishes and divides. I do not tolerate it and I report those who engage with it.
  5. Poverty is a form of violence. I commit to helping combat inequality in all its shapes and forms.
  6. I should listen to indigenous communities and make sure that their decisions and their right to autonomy are respected.
  7. Gender equality is a vital foundation for a fair society. I fight for social and economic equality for women. I oppose any kind of violence directed towards them.
  8. I respect the gender identity and sexual orientation of every individual. We should all have access to the same rights.
  9. I show solidarity with undocumented migrants. I defend the rights of my fellow countrymen/women on the other side of the border, in the same way that I defend and welcome those who migrate to Mexico or though Mexican territory.
  10. I support education, culture, science and art as the fundamental pillars upon which a country can be built.
  11. Respecting the environment is respecting myself.
  12. I defend freedom of expression in all its forms. Freedom is a right that I construct and demand.

In just a few days, more than 30 thousand people signed the petition to commit to the points above through the page: http://eldiadespues.mx/

This mini-documentary of less than 12 minutes speaks of what the majority of Mexicans really want, although at times we forget: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9f0k_8W8wM

 

About the author

Gabriela Gutiérrez M. es coordinadora en el sitio de fact-checking mexicano @VerificadoMX y autora del libro Sexo en las Cárceles de la CdMx (reportaje sobre corrupción). Twitter: @gabytronica

Gabriella Gutiérrez M. is a coordinator at the Mexico based fact-checking site @VerificadoMX and is the author of the book “Sex in the Prisons of Ciudad de Mexico” (Sexo en las Cárceles de la CdMx), a report about corruption. Twitter: @gabytronica

 


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