Mexico is launching a big experiment in democracy that promises to turn people's ideas into the new law of the land.
In January President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a reform that made Mexico's capital, which has always been known as Distrito Federal or Federal District (similar to Washington, D.C.), its own sovereign city. Now the local government is getting more autonomy, which means local lawmakers will be able to approve the city’s budget and draft their own constitution, among other measures.
That new spirit of autonomy has mobilized chilangos, as Mexico City residents are known, to try to get their respective agendas included in the new set of laws that will govern the urban hub. LGBTQ and women's rights groups were among the first in line to lobby for representation in the new constitution, but other groups are pushing to make their voices heard, too.
That prompted Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera to implement a plan designed to give everyone a voice in the city’s democratic experiment by using an online platform and a Change.org petition. Those who don’t have internet access will be able to submit their proposals at one of 300 mobile kiosks around the city.
There’s plenty at stake. For the first time in history, residents will be able to use the internet to reimagine the future of their city, and whether or not it will continue on its famously progressive path.
The task of cobbling together all those proposals into a new constitution will fall to a select group of civil society leaders, academics, intellectuals, politicians, and even a former paralympic medalist. These government-appointed "founding fathers" will have the daunting challenge of writing a magna carta for a city that has existed for nearly 700 years, and whose metropolitan area is home to more than 20 million people.
The Change.org initative will allow people to submit their proposals for an online vote; people whose ideas garner more than 10,000 digital signatures will then be able to present their proposals before members of the team of experts for consideration in the constitution.
“We are entering the writing phase and we’ll have to submit a final document by August 15,” said Carlos Cruz, president of Cauce Ciudadano, a Mexican NGO that seeks to improve the living conditions of the country’s youth.
Cruz was among the 27 Mexicans chosen to form the expert panel that will be drafting the new constitution. His role has been to ensure that the constitution includes a youth agenda.
Cruz told Fusion he will be pushing to lower Mexico City’s voting age from 18 to 16 so that teenagers can have a say in local referendums. He’ll also try to promote measures that keep young people from falling into a life of crime. “We are trying to generate a document that’s inclusive and invites participation,” he said.
Cruz said the group of experts is also considering a proposal to put the final draft of the constitution up for popular vote in a referendum.
The Change.org initiative has already sparked all types of petitions—from lowering wages for government officials, and banning zoos, to increasing paid vacation days, to name just a few of the ideas. One petition is asking for Mexico City cops to wear GoPro-style cameras as a measure to prevent corruption and abuse of power. Another petition is asking for all schools to ban the sale of junk food.
Mexicans are also creating petitions for and against abortion, in what is increasingly becoming a major online battleground for conservatives and liberals.
It remains to be seen if the government’s digital democracy efforts are serious, or only meant to project an image of inclusiveness. But many seem to taking the invitation seriously and believe their online petitions can and will be heard.
“At the beginning, all the process of creating a new constitution seemed unnecessary and only an excuse to create more political positions and generate benefits for the political class,” Francisco Fontano, a young Mexican travel blogger who’s submitted three Change.org pertitions, told Fusion. But Fontano says he has since decided to give the process a try, considering it might be the only viable mechanism for citizens to voice their concerns.
Fontano recently submitted a petition to have the new constitution guarantee the creation of some 99 square feet of green space for every resident of Mexico City. The idea has already been backed by more than 30,000 online supporters, and was the first to surpass the signature requirement for consideration.
Still, it's not clear what the proposal would actually look like if ever implemented. Some calculate the green area would cover a swath of the city that's approximately 50 times larger than New York's Central Park, while others say it would make 5% of Mexico City green. Everyone seems to have a different measurement at this point, but in any event it would certainly green things up.
Fontano hopes the government sticks to its word and seriously considers including his proposal in the new constitution.
“If this process turns out to be fake and it all fails, it won’t matter because I did what I could,” he told me. “I’ve always believed you have to remain idealistic to change things; be a little crazy and always stay positive.”