The 24-year-old Chilean student leader who captured the world’s attention last year during her country’s massive protests over education reform is taking her message global as she meets with Mexican students from the budding movement YoSoy132.
Camila Vallejo, a student at the University of Chile, became the face of youth-led demands for state-funded and higher quality education in her country last May, during what some called the “Chilean Winter.”
Encouraged by Vallejo’s leadership, tens of thousands of Chilean youth boycotted school, protested in the streets and took to social media to make their demands. The movement’s laser-beam focus led to the resignation of two education ministers and moved public education to the top of the Chilean Parliament’s concerns.
Vallejo meets with Mexican youth movement
On Wednesday, Vallejo traveled to Mexico to participate in a conference on public education at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco, where on June 15 she lead a discussion about youth and the future of public education.
Vallejo, who was called the “world’s most glamorous revolutionary” in a profile by the New York Times Magazine, has been heralded for her unique mix of charisma, beauty, articulateness and understanding of policy.
And though she has strategically tried to characterize herself as just one leader in Chile’s youth-led revolution, she has increasingly taken her message global, traveling to Cuba at the invitation of the Young Communists League to discuss education in April — for which she was highly criticized — and now traveling to Mexico, where there’s been a flurry of media attention since she touched down.
An alliance with Mexican students and YoSoy132
She’s forming alliances and sharing her experiences with youth-led movements across the world, according to the Mexican paper La Jornada, linking up with the Occupy Movement in the United States, Spain’s Indignants and 15-M movement and the YoSoy132 movement in Mexico. YoSoy132 started May 11 at the Ibero American University when students protested against a visit from Enrique Peña Nieto, the frontrunner in the country’s July 1 election.
A member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years prior to its ousting in 2000, Peña Nieto drew criticism from students for his human rights record.
The YoSoy132 movement was born after a viral video of 131 students identifying themselves was released, countering reports that protestors were outsiders, not actual students. The “132” represents every additional person who joined the movement after seeing the video. On June 10, YoSoy132 released another video that characterized members as being tired of corruption, impunity, “dirty wars” and economic crisis.
In addition to meeting with students on Thursday, Vallejo is also scheduled to appear at a YoSoy132-sponsored concert Saturday June 16 in Mexico City’s zócalo, alongside well-known Mexican singer Julieta Venegas.
Developing a ‘global vision’ for change
“To transcend, we need to have a global vision,” Vallejo said in an interview that appeared in La Jornada, pointing out that the youth-led movements around the world have similar objectives. “We all have a need to overcome public opinion, which you can’t do with the current methods of communication. We had to innovate, to create spaces to explain our proposals. We did it in the streets, on social networks.”
The Chilean movement has been praised for unifying around one central issue — public education — compared to movements like Occupy Wall Street, which is often disparate in its demands and concerns. But Vallejo acknowledged in her interview with La Jornada that “to reform education we needed social, political and economic changes” in Chile.
The YoSoy132 movement in Mexico has rallied around discontent over the imminent election of Peña Nieto and the consolidated state of the media — an area in which the students have had some success. The country’s second presidential debate was televised on all of Mexico’s major networks, in part because students had demanded it.
Onlookers continue to debate the longevity of YoSoy132, which they say could fizzle out on July 2, or continue to challenge the new president once elected.
“Whether YoSoy132 has staying power may depend on whether other influencers or institutions get behind the movement,” the New York Times’ Damien Cave predicted.
With attention from big names like Vallejo — perhaps they have a chance.