Pedro Kumamoto is a skilled, versatile, sharp tongued speaker. Mixed, crossed, global/local references can be found in his discourse: from 15M and Evo Morales, to Zapatism, Ada Colau, Podemos, Occupy Wall Street and, above all, #YoSoy132, the Mexican movement that emerged in 2012. Pedro Kumamoto, who has just turned 26, is the first Mexican state congressman to be elected under the law of independent candidates. Kumamoto, of Japanese descent, is the heart and voice of the Wikipolítica movement. He won in the conservative 10th district of the state of Jalisco, with a progressive program and no economic resources for the campaign.
From Guadalajara – the Mexican Silicon Valley – Kumamoto dreams of thinking the world not from a nation state perspective, but from “municipalist globalism”. And he aims to exert influence on both state and city powers. He is uncertain whether Wikipolítica will become a political party or if it will be exclusively institutional. “We could go back to being a social movement again”, he says. So far, they are working on issues of transparency, participation and civil rights. They plan on opening “subversive social centres”. And they are talking with groups, movements and politicians from around the world.
Bernardo Gutiérrez interviews Pedro Kumamoto.
How did your social, technological and political concerns turn you into an activist? How did you arrive at Wikipolítica?
What I was really interested in was poetry. I went to Mexico City to study cinema at the National Autonomous University (UNAM). I did not get in, but I hung around campus a lot. I went to demonstrations and marches. I was back in Guadalajara in 2009 when the Matute Remos bridge construction began, and people started camping in protest. A lot of us in the movement met there. And something fundamental emerged: trust.
Why is trust so important?
Camping generates intimacy. We had to learn to lose, in order to learn how to win. They overtook and steamrollered us. We, as organizations, have a monument to defeat – which is very nice. I became politicized there. I said: camping is not a bad thing to do against the ruling class. I realized how wonderful public space is. I became a bike radical. In 2010, I entered university at ITESO, the Jesuit University of Guadalajara. I realized that social movements and public space are not unrelated to art.
2011 was the most global year in recent years: it was the year of the Arab Spring, the 15M, Occupy Wall Street – a year where new ways of organizing and mobilizing emerged. Did this global climate have an influence on you?
Yes, of course. I was in Occupy Guadalajara, the Jalisco assembly. I was in them all. I have short hair now, to camouflage myself a bit, but I had long hair then. And a bike. I was a poet.
How did the YoSoy132 movement in 2012 affect you?
I became president of the students’ union in May 2012 and YoSoy132 arose at about that time. I had a great deal of sympathy for YoSoy132. It is a very useful movement for politicizing young people, even though in Mexico it has attracted some disapproval for “not achieving its objectives”….
They said the same thing about 15M in Spain, and in due course it has translated into some deep changes. Its 'municipalist' evolution has conquered the governments of the main cities in the country…
Wikipolítica owes its victory to YoSoy132. Peña Nieto won the presidential election and he is a bastard. But, are you asking a 30-day-old youth movement to beat the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is the most powerful structure in the country, in alliance with drug traffickers and money lords? I am sorry, this is just impossible. The 1910 Mexican Revolution did not produce a constitution until 1917, and they used weapons and blood was shed. It is a good thing that 132, with no weapons and no blood, has generated so many things three years later.
The most important value these new movements have is the networks of trust they create among people who have different, asymmetric or nonexistent relationships. Many people voted for me because they had seen me on the marches and because I was not a bloody conventional politician. We young people came out of the closet. You could not say “I am interested” in politics before 132. They would say: “I see, you are corrupt, you want to be in a party.” Not any more.
Let us talk about Wikipolítica. How did it happen?
For the short-termers, YoSoy132 lost. They said that the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) or the radical left co-opted the movement. Or that it became institutionalized. I have never been a devotee of the “all or nothing” logic, but there was definitely a feeling of apparent defeat. In Mexico City, many people began to wonder: what if we set up a Wikiparty that is neither left nor right, based on human rights, so as to frighten the right? A quest for total innovation.
This is where the Wikiparty process started…
In Mexico, you only have one year. You need 220.000 endorsements, 20 assemblies with 3.000 people each in different states - which is impossible. We said: what we want is to have an influence, get in and blow up the institutions. On the other hand, there was our hippy little heart… are we going to leave out everything else? The answer was no. We are an organization that can join in an anti-globalization march, but that also wants to have an impact on public policy. We can work with academics and with subversive groups. We decided to use the institutional, but also the non-institutional paths. A year ago, we said: we will launch an independent candidacy. Some called us lunatics. By the end of 2014, independent candidacies were allowed to run in Jalisco. They asked for 2% of the voters in your district or city. We needed 5.500 signatures.
So, Wikipolítica comes after the Wikiparty. And it was unclear whether it would be an electoral platform.
The debate went on for a year and a half, whether to enter electoral politics or not, whether it would not in fact be giving the dead system a chance. Had we been pragmatists, we would have been a political party since day one. But we are not.
So, when did you decide to go for representative politics?
When we began to understand that what was really important was not to win, but to conduct an experiment in democracy. For us, it was a matter of the “losing we shall win” logic: we must win politically by losing electorally. We wanted to show that it is possible to do politics without wasting resources, without corruption, in a transparent way, with a good program, using technology, building local community.
Was there any Latin American or global referent?
At that time, Podemos did not exist, but we knew about the effervescence in Madrid. We were in contact with the Wikiparty in Spain, but we did not like how they were organizing themselves. We realized we were an organization claiming social and political rights, and using technology. Technology is not a priority like gender, participation or sustainability. We are working to be a holistic organization that has citizen participation at its core. The lack of participation within the institutions generates a plebiscitary oligarchy.
I guess you had located the Net Party in Argentina…
Yes, that was very exciting. But we also referred to movements like the Zapatistas or the mass movements Evo Morales generated, because technology is not all. Occupy Wall Street helped us. Our reference was YoSoy132. And Barcelona en Comú caught our attention. Yes, we wanted to do something like the Net Party. There were only 12 or 15 of us. When we say that we were only a bunch of people in a wild party at Wikipolítica, that was really the case. And we got a huge wild party.
Wikipolítica’s electoral campaign has been highly praised. How did the slogan “occupy the city, inhabit politics” come about?
Through a lot of previous work and clearly stated aims. It all came from brainstorms at Wikipolítica, although they were not intended for a campaign. We had to shatter the image of the politician who has “already won”. We had to be open and say: “we are not so strong”, please come and collect signatures with us. It was crazy. No one got paid anything. We managed to get 8.500 signatures – 8.000 of them valid.
How come you chose the 10th district in Jalisco, which is conservative and upper-middle class?
It has the highest Internet penetration rate. It has also a separate vote for the state and for the federal government. And it is the district where we live, where people know us from the park, or from school. We were told that I was a candidate 3 hours before the start of the campaign.
The authorities were very much against us. What happened was that the visibility of the campaign grew because a clown with a bad reputation by the name of Lagrimita (little tear) decided to run. People turned us, the two independent candidates, into two poles: Lagrimita, who did not have any proposals, and us, the idealistic youth with no money. This was very much to our advantage. Obviously, we did have some legitimacy: we had taken part in social movements and some academics spoke well of us.
What was your answer when the media asked you if you were left or right?
I usually said: this initiative is not left nor right, we have a program with concrete proposals. I explained that the initiative came from collective intelligence, that it was processed by a group of experts, and that we were not looking for a monolithic ideological space, but a space that would tackle issues programmatically. To the people on the right, citizen participation may be interesting because it promotes state efficiency; to the people on the left, because it defends the empowerment of citizens.
Now that you have won, looking at your program, would you say it is progressive?
But you avoided the issue of abortion before the elections…
I was the only candidate who did not position himself against abortion. For us, it is important not to build militant positions, but positions of dialogue. I, personally, am in favour of abortion. I said that I offered myself as a bridge for dialogue, because we had not discussed the question enough.
Every new party is required to show an ideological ID, so as to get it to lose votes. Pablo Iglesias also says: “I am a leftist”, but Podemos “is something else”. Is a wiki imaginary and an open approach an advantage or a disadvantage?
It can be both. We became a media boom because they thought we were not going to win. If we had been perceived like Podemos, they would have given us hell from the start. They did not attack us that much. Besides, my district is very conservative. It was very complicated. I am young, dark-skinned, leftist… quite the opposite of my white, upper-middle class district.
And how did you manage to win with a progressive agenda in a conservative district? What was the trick?
We were honest. The discursive skills you need to acquire in a wiki process helps a lot. When you arrive at a very conservative place, you explain yourself and look for similarities. We carry the idea of community building with us. When they ask: what about gay marriage? I say: I am in favour of it. And they say: well, no big deal.
Almost anything can be settled through discourse, concrete approaches and good judgment. When you are not guided by an ideological beacon, two things can happen: you can get lost, or you can build different truths with different people. If ideology ends up framing all your activities, then an impressive amount of wealth gets lost. We need another framework for decision-making that consolidates rights and ends inequality.
Now, what? You have won. Tell me about your plans…
We are clear about some things, but not about some others. We want to be the most professional – technically speaking, ethical and legally innovative council. On the other hand, we want to create a new governance model, wake people up, do community work, play a part in the public space. That is to say, I want my proposals to change people’s lives. We want all the information we generate to be open and usable. The goal is to have a methodology of getting things done and accountability.
In other words, you want a wild party in politics…
We want to have a centre for this, something like Podemos’s 'purple houses’, a community house functioning as a subversive centre. There is a very nice word in Mexico: argüende (noisy discussion, event or happening). It implies being sometimes troublesome, but also attentive and getting things done. The argüendero is the one who goes to a desmadre (wild party). We want to be an educational space that facilitates the politicization process. But we are not sure if we will always be institutional. You can expect continuous assessment from us. We want to consolidate a system of rights for everyone. Although many issues are to be dealt with at federal level, at state level we can respond, create programs, smooth the way for the passing of bills, bring a human rights perspective to already existing laws.
Why work on things where there is no competition?
The challenge is to adapt the executive to the legislative branch, and to do it with a municipal perspective. We want to be a sort of social witness. That is, when neighbours tell us they want to cut down all the trees in an avenue, we will say: Pablo Lemus (mayor of Zapopan), you bastard, come here, we need to talk.
What do you think of Citizen Movement, which ended bipartisanship in Jalisco and won 24 municipalities?
There are very valuable people in it, as well as some who are less suitable. It is a union of pragmatic people who have decided to occupy public spaces on the basis of good administration, and I think that is a positive thing. Its first nucleus was Eloy Alfaro’s group, mostly progressive. Then they opened themselves up to the centre right. And now some people from the right have gotten in. They are more democratic – with some reservations - than the PRI…
Will Wikipolítica enter mayoral contests? Wikipolítica is expanding throughout Mexico. Is it planning to jump to other states?
I really like the concept that Ada Colau uses in feminizing politics. We need to know how to say ‘I don’t know’ when we do not know. I do not know if we are going to enter other contests because we are not sure if our governmental action will change the government monster. We can change more things in a local community house. The wonderful thing about Wikipolítica is its liquidity and flexibility. We are moving towards the institutional space, but keeping branches and resonance in non-governmental spaces. We might change back once again into a social movement.
The disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa opened a very deep political crisis in Mexico. Unforeseen events are happening. There are good expectations for independent candidacies. Even the PRI and the National Action Party (PAN) have had to accept them.
Definitely. There is a structure, a net of networks that can be configured for other purposes: a plebiscite, an independent council, or a social movements’ festival.
All over the world, representative democracy appears to be going through some tough times. There is a quest for a net party, a movement party, an inside-out structure. How do you see the new global connections with similar movements?
It is romantic and exciting to think that these links exist. 80 or 90 cities in the world geared towards the common good? Hopefully, yes. We would need to earn trust, make encounters. It is a powerful idea: to think not from a nation state perspective, but from municipalist globalism.
How does the free software and hacker ethics fit with the day to day operation of Wikipolítica?
The free software culture, the tools, collaboration: they all have an influence on politics - completely. The technological production model and its symbols affect politics. The freer the knowledge is, the more knowledge it generates. It is very important to keep the source open because this directly touches on the economy. It is our day to day business. I find this very exciting. I hope we shall be able to consolidate the tools and the conceptual frameworks to generate another kind of politics. We need to bring together the symbols and the tools.
Translated from Spanish by Martín Pastorino, member of Democracia Abierta's Volunteer Program