“A Great science fiction detective story”
– Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
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My blog posts recently went on an unexpected hiatus when, among other things, my hard drive crashed, taking with it the most recent version of my novel, Luck and Death at the Edge of the World, just before its publication deadline, along with all of my emails and a host of other things I foolishly hadn’t backed up.
There followed a mad scramble to repair the computer, try in vain to recover any important data, re-write and re-edit all the lost work, and complete the work that was already in line to be done before the crash. The book got published, but blog posts had to be put on hold to make sure it happened.
But a more interesting disruption came when the Mexican presidential election derailed my workflow at about the same time. How?
A significant portion of the book takes place in Mexico and I needed to have a person on the ground in Mexico City to help set up a very cool Luck and Death online event that I have in the works.
I can’t give details on the event yet, but it requires that I have the cooperation of some outside participants — local businesses in areas where the story takes place — and they had to commit to being part of the event before I could finalize the novel for publication.
Some of these outside participants had to be businesses in Mexico City and to get their participation I needed someone who was there and who knew the local scene.
And I had such a person. He’d already been very generous with his time, giving me helpful notes on the parts of the book that take place in Mexico. I hadn’t asked him about the preparation for the online event yet, but he’d been very supportive so I was sure he’d be fine with it.
So far, so good.
Then the election in Mexico suddenly got very interesting and very intense in what seemed like no time at all with the eruption of the Yo Soy 132 (“I Am 132”) student movement. This is a non-partisan grassroots campaign demanding that the mass media in Mexico start functioning as something resembling an impartial source of accurate information rather than as cheerleaders for entrenched power.
That sounds very left-of-center, and the movement certainly has much support on the left, but the participants come from a broad political spectrum of people who are simply tired of business as usual. In some quarters it’s being referred to as “la primavera Mexicana,” the Mexican Spring, in reference to recent populist movements in the Arab world.
The name “yo soy #132” derives from a protest on May 11 at a university in Mexico City where a crowd of 131 protestors jeered front-running presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI. He dismissed the protest as being “not genuine,” claiming that the protestors weren’t real students but outsiders who were planted by rival parties.
It was a dumb thing to say. The students — because they were students at the university, not “infiltrators” as he had called them — then went on social media, identifying themselves one by one and showing their student ID, giving lie to his claim.
When the mainstream media in Mexico ignored their gesture, they staged new protests directed specifically at the media, which have a widespread reputation in Mexico for pandering to the powerful, including the man everyone expects will be the next president.
And that’s when things really took off, as the students from the original protest were joined by thousands and thousands more. As my Mexican correspondent wrote me:
What innocently began as a demonstration, has become a movement, it has acquired life of its own. We number now in the tens of thousands, and the numbers just grow and grow.
With the slogan “yo soy #132,” each protestor declares themselves to be part of the crowd that the candidate derided and the media ignored — it’s an expression of solidarity, like shouting “I’m Spartacus” or putting on the Guy Fawkes mask used by Anonymous. And since this is a campaign founded in social media, it’s also a hashtag on Twitter: #YoSoy132 and a web site has been set up.
Yo Soy #132 appears to have very quickly and unexpectedly taken a chunk out of Peña Nieto’s large lead in the race. He’s still far ahead of the other candidates, but until now nothing had even slowed him down so it must have come as an unpleasant shock to the PRI.
To add drama, the candidate who moved into second place around the same time is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the guy who just barely lost the previous presidential election in 2006 (by about 0.58% of the vote). That result was widely believed to have been the result of fraud, leading Lopez Obrador to call massive, paralyzing protests.
(I was in Mexico City at the time and one of most popular topics of conversation in the 12-kilometre-long tent city that housed the thousands of protestors was media bias, the very issue that’s blowing up now.)
So when all this happened my guy in Mexico, who’s a politcally engaged student, suddenly had to ask himself “do I participate in an important mass movement to improve democracy in my country or do I help this guy with his book?” He did exactly what I would have done and went back to the protests. He contacted me and apologized before he left. I told not to apologize and wished him well.
Which is all good, but it still left me in a difficult position. I had a deadline bearing down on me and no one in Mexico to help set things up.
She didn’t know me from the next guy, but she thought the event sounded cool, understood the urgency, and immediately jumped in and got everything sorted for me. Amazing.
So a thousand thank yous to Veronica.
To those of you in Mexico: lots of love, peace, and good luck. I look forward to seeing the DF again.
And now my workflow can get back to normal. Well, right after this one last video — watching this one to the end is worth it.