Susana Ochoa is the communication coordinator for Wikipolítica and for Rep. Pedro Kumamoto in the Congress of Jalisco, Mexico. Photo: Youtube.
Within the framework of this year's "Fearless Cities" summit, Fundación Avina and DemocraciaAbierta established a special collaboration to explore some of the most exciting poltical experiences arising from Latin America.
Bringing together relevant actors in the field that are directly involved in political innovation at the local level, in Latin America, we have sought answers to four major issues shared by all the projects: a) Vision of innovation; b) National political context and limitations of local power; c) Influence of the international political context, and d) The question of leadership.
Susana Ochoa Chavira is the communication coordinator for Wikipolítica and for Rep. Pedro Kumamoto in the Congress of Jalisco, Mexico.
VISION OF INNOVATION
I believe that innovation results from a need to find answers we are lacking to problems we have. There is much talk about innovation, but when you are campaigning, you cannot talk about innovation. You cannot mention the word "experiment", for example.
We used it once in the campaign, at two election events, and the mother of one of the campaigners told us: "Do not use that word, people do not want experiments, and the less so with public money”. Of course you have to communicate that you are innovating and experimenting in the campaign, but without using words like “experiment".
Also, when you think of political innovation, you immediately think of apps and technology, but we have found that, in fact, an app often does not solve the problem of citizen participation. It can be a perfect app, but if people do not use it, it is useless. So, I believe that innovation does not necessarily have to do with technology but, rather, with how creatively disruptive you can be. But not disruptive for the sake of being disruptive - anyone can do crazy things - but actually for doing things that make sense to people, so that they can say: "that could have happened to me too". Common sense things, most likely, making a sense that I think the political class is lacking.
NATIONAL POLITICAL CONTEXT AND LIMITATIONS OF LOCAL POWER
There is a way to look at local power which can even improve the way you look at national power. I will give an example. One day, an academic from Guadalajara was presenting a civil society project and he displayed a picture of a big monster. He explained that this was what our country's problems looked like. And he started to zoom in, the monster began to pixelate, and so it did not look so threatening anymore - you could see its flaws. I think that is how we should analyse the issue of power.
I do not think we should eliminate power, since power is what enables you to do things. But I do believe we have to rethink how we de-centralise it. This has to do with practices like, for example, Pedro Kumamoto’s. Being such a visible figure, a moral leader even at the national level, his office is his first and foremost counterweight. Many politicians are surrounded by people who are constantly telling them that everything is going to be okay, and that they are the best, so that it is, I think, very easy for them, as a political class, to lose touch with reality. The crux of the matter is how you de-centralise power, and thist has to do with how you generate weights and counterweights within an organisation.
At the national level, this is more complicated. But if you think about it within your organisation, within your team, you can extrapolate.
In any case, we have to start from the micro level, from the personal reflection that every political figure in power has to do regarding why they want to do things and how they can generate institutional trust. I think that is important. We believe that this must be the issue: how to generate institutionality, and not do things the way we did when we started Wikipolitics, which was like a group of friends who had things in common. We realised that you cannot create a political movement on such a basis, that of reciprocal, emotional friendships, because then you become a fascist group. You have to create clear, transparent rules which enable you to control power.
IMPACT OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL CONTEXT
Whatever happens in the United States has an immediate effect in Mexico, but I think that the main problem with Trump is that a lot of what he says is true. He says, and it is true, that many media outlets are deceiving people. He says that the system is not working, and that is also true. That is, he talks about common truths, but the solutions he offers are extreme and atrocious – I think that is his main problem.
In Mexico, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was in power for a long time and exercised it in a very authoritarian way but, for some years, there was some progress in the country. As a result, especially for the generation of people over 50 or 60, the idea that it takes a strong hand to make sure that the laws are respected carries some weight. Because, in a country like Mexico, impunity is definitely an issue: there are practically no guarantees for accessing justice, which is the only thing ordinary people have to defend themselves against anything. The result is that justice does not exist in Mexico. So, it is very easy to build this idea that a strong hand can bring justice back.
What really worries us in Mexico is the systematic violation of human rights. First, because the issue of human rights is not something on the ordinary citizen's agenda: people simply do not know what human rights are. They do not know they have them. This is why human rights are in danger: because ordinary people do not embrace them, because they do not know they exist.
This is a very telling anecdote of what happens with human rights in Mexico. I convened a meeting with my neighbours, both male and female, because a person was killed in front of my house, in quite a central area of the city. I was impressed to see how many people, who went to university and are quite well-off, were saying that we should do as they do in Singapore and apply the death penalty, because that is the only thing that works. This worried me a lot. People are very scared, they want to be safe and they believe that to be safe means having soldiers on the streets, who can stop you without guarantees, who can spy on you. These are the things that concern me.
THE QUESTION OF LEADERSHIP
The question of leadership has been a subject of much reflection within Wikipolitics because, for a long time, we fetished horizontality. Now we know that horizontality is an aspiration, but that we are definitely far from it. We can move towards it, de-centralise power a little. In our election campaign, for example, Pedro Kumamoto always talked about 'us', and he was always very explicit about the fact that there was a team behind him.
But shared leadership is difficult, because people are accustomed to delegating change: they think that a person will come to save them. This is what López Obrador represents, for example. In Mexican history, we have almost always had a lot of saviours. But we at Wikipolitics are now in the middle of a debate on horizontality and collectivity, which is definitely a way to move forward – and there is no turning back.
However, in the end, when people vote, they vote for a person, a leader that represents things, and that leader has other people around him. The person who is to lead the list is also part of a team but, at the end of the day, it is that person who gives the interviews, it is that person who stands up and talks to people, it is that person who is on the ballot. The challenge is how to build new leaderships, how to reinvent them and make them more collective, but we definitely cannot do politics without leadership. And that was hard for us to understand. We had to work on it, but I believe we have now made some progress in that sense.
Check out our webpage for this special project: https://opendemocracy.net/info/avina-interactive-roundtable-english