Mexico's 'Rock the Vote' Drive Hopes to Stir Youth

With Mexico's national election approaching in July, a Spanish-language version of the Rock the Vote campaign is trying to get the country's disaffected youth involved. Mexican citizens are generally skeptical about the political process, but the youth-oriented voting drive is having some success.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Mexico's presidential elections are coming up in July, and it looks like young voters aren't all that interested. So, a Mexican organization has launched its own version of the Rock the Vote campaign. From Mexico City, Jordana Gustafson reports.

JORDANA GUSTAFSON reporting:

To 32-year-old Mexican political scientist Louis Estrada(ph), it's no big wonder that many young Mexicans have little interest in politics. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Estrada scans newspaper headlines at a newsstand in downtown Mexico City. A full two months into the presidential campaign, Estrada says, and there is not a single important issue being discussed that might galvanize young voters and get them to the polls.

Mr. Louis Estrada (Political Scientist): Everything, the rest is about the scandals and the insecurity in Mexico. That's it. There is no proposals, no proposition, no nothing. So, that is not good.

Ms. GUSTAFSON: It's been six years since Vicente Fox was elected president here, ending seven decades of single-party rule in Mexico, but distrust of politics and politicians remains, and many young people in Mexico are loathed to get involved in politics in any way.

In 2003, 70 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 34 did not vote in federal elections.

On a Monday afternoon in Mexico City's Central Park, young people from every walk of life have the same reaction when they hear the word politician. From Felipe Fernandez, a mechanical engineering student with a black laptop bag thrown over his shoulder, to Alberto Juarez, a young merchant walking through the park, swinging handmade, woven bracelets.

(Soundbite of men speaking Spanish)

Ms. GUSTAFSON: It's pure corruption, they say--oligarchy, tyranny--there is no democracy. These answers are actually heartening to 27-year-old Armando David, President of Mexico's Tu Rock es Votar campaign, designed to get out the young vote for July's elections. David considers these responses evidence that Mexico's young people do care.

Mr. ARMANDO DAVID (President, Tu Rock es Votar campaign): In a way, we've never believed it's apathy, because apathy means that you really don't care.

Ms. GUSTAFSON: David says the reasons for low-voter turnout from young people in Mexico are different from those in the United States.

Mr. DAVID: Young people in Mexico, it's not that they don't care at all. They do care, because they complain all the time, and that's a typical Mexican characteristic.

Ms. GUSTAFSON: In the campaign's black-and-white TV ad, rock and pop music starts, actors and soccer players echoed David's sentiment.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking Spanish)

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking Spanish)

Ms. GUSTAFSON: We complain about assaults, they say. We complain about poverty, incompetent politicians that work as in other countries, but no one does anything here--that no one listens.

Mr. DAVID: We complain about everything, so that means that it's really not apathy. It's just some sort of--we call it (speaks Spanish).

Ms. GUSTAFSON: Or disenchantment, fueled by years of political and economic crises and unfulfilled promises. The campaign's message doesn't seek to enchant Mexican voters with current politics. It's message to young Mexicans is direct.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking Spanish)

Ms. GUSTAFSON: If you don't vote, shut up. David says the campaign has done well so far. TV and radio spots are now airing. Billboards are up in major cities, and it's begun a series of open-forum discussions at universities, but convincing corporate donors in Mexico has been a tougher sell. The U.S. Rock the Vote campaign relies on non-profit organizations and a handful of corporate sponsors for funding.

In Mexico, there's often suspicion that the new movement is partisan, and many successful corporations aren't excited about upsetting the status quo by encouraging new voters. There are nearly 30 million registered young voters, or about half of Mexico's voting populous, some 7 million of whom will be voting for the first time.

Mr. DAVID: I mean, with 7 million votes, you could probably decide the election, so I'm not sure people are very happy with that. But hey, I mean, we either start living a democracy in its fullest sense or this could probably crumble down from one day to the next, so they have to start accepting that, also.

Ms. GUSTAFSON: So far, Coca Cola, Phillip Morris and Yahoo Mexico, among others, have accepted that. The campaign hopes to raise about a million dollars, and it's halfway to its goal.

For NPR News, I'm Jordana Gustafson in Mexico City.

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