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The Revolution will be twittered

24 October 2009

For the last several months, Mexico has been discussing new taxes.  The original proposal from the Calderón Administration, for a two percent increase in the sales tax, spun as a beneficial to the poor, was widely derided.  There were the usual bombastic speeches by the politicians, the outraged editorials in the media and a few street demonstrations… but it was clear the proposal was doomed in Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Mexican Congress) where the President’s party, the conservative PAN, lacks the votes to pass any bills without support from one of the main opposition parties.

Some tax bill had to be passed, and —  several compromises and alternatives later, one did make it through the Chamber last Wednesday, just after five P.M.  The bill only raises the sales tax one percent, and exempts food and medicine, but to make up the difference in revenue, includes several other taxes, including a three percent tax on telecommunications and internet connections.

EL-MOVIMIENTOBy six PM, la revolución online — led bya  vanguard “movimiento twittero” — had an organized resistance underway. Mexicans, even the most avant-garde cybergeek, tend to assess their present though the lens of their history. With the centennial celebration of the 1910 Revolution gearing up, it’s natural los twitteros and their allies have looked to that Revolution for guidance.

In 1908, Porfiro Diaz, who had been elected president every four years since 1884 with only token opposition and was dictator in all but name, made the mistake of mentioning to a foreign reporter that he might  consider retiring in 1910.  Diaz had no intention of actually giving up power, but  Francisco I. Madero, a wealthy landowner and eccentric, took it upon himself to publish and distribute La sucesión presidencial en 1910 — in effect, going outside the traditional media to launch what would, indeed, be a revolution.

José Merino, a doctoral candidate, sometime newspaper and TV journalist and founder or director of several web-based sites, writes in “El Defe”:

Madero launched a revolution with a book in a country where 72.3 percent of adults were illiterate.

Why can’t we initiate a change in the relationship between the people and their legislators over a three percent tax on internet use in a country where only twenty-five percent are regular users?

Within a day, without blocking streets or resorting to mass media (print and electronic), Twitter and Facebook users had generated so much noise that the Senate — the revenue bill is now in the upper house — held hearings on the issue today.

And, in less than twenty-four hours created two sites dealing with the topic: that summarizes the Twitter activity on the issue and the marvellous — showing that creative people, despite the ridicule of the “mainstream media”, can synthesize the relevant information clearly and .. for lack of a better word… beautiful manner.

The Senate Science and Technology Committee heard from internet industry executives, academics and the users… in the hearing room, and several thousand more who participated in the first ever interactive hearing in Mexican legislative history. An estimated five thousand twitters were received opposing the tax increase.

The Committee President, Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca said the anti-tax movement’s spontaneity demonstrated the ability of the internet and social network to bring together thousands of people for consultations.

About the unprecedented structure of the hearing, Castellón was quoted as saying “This meeting was designed for sending messages on the network, mainly in Twitter, on the prevailing situation in the discussion of the Revenue Act, especially as it applies to telecommunications excise taxes.”

The Senator needs to learn to limit his statements to 140 characters, but it’s a start. His party, the leftist PRD (Revolutionary Democratic Party) is apparently ready to join “la revolucíon online”.  Livestreaming Internet Necesario protests are being posted on Noticieros SPD , a website originally set up in support former PRD Presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador’s “alternative presidency”, but has become an alternative media source for several progressive and leftist causes.

robot_mexico_cfmwall_0776Moviemento Internet Necesario — so far — has been limiting their action to killing the communications excise tax.  But, as José Merino noted, Mexicans have the among the slowest broadband access speeds, and highest access rates in the world.  La revolución online may spread well beyond the narrow concerns of the twenty-five percent of Mexicans who use the internet, much as Madero’s revolution — concerned only with the specifics of presidential succession — spread when the instigator failed to recognize the thirst for radical social change.

The Movement is already starting to go viral, showing up on Global Voices.   Today, the internet tax… tomorrow, free WiFi.  Geeks of the world unite… you have nothing to lose but your web-links!

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