From Rescuing Earthquake Victims to Reconstructing Mexican Polity

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Jorge CADENA-ROA, UNAM, Mexico
Cristina PUGA, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, Mexico, Autonomous National University of Mexico, Mexico, Mexico
The September 19th, 2017 earthquake in Mexico City, brought together thousands of students and neighbors with the armed forces in unusual cooperation in order to rescue earthquake victims trapped under the fallen buildings. This social mobilization occurred in a moment when the federal government suffers a severe legitimacy crisis, several state governors are investigated under corruption charges, and there is a widespread sense the Mexican democracy is not working, the law is poorly enforced, and violence and human rights abuses are rising. Drawing on Goffman’s (1959, 1974) dramaturgical and framing perspective, and on recent scholarship on politics and performance (Alexander 2011, Doerr et al. 2015, McAdam 1996, Saward 2017, Tilly 2008), we analyze dramatic and emotional moments during the rescue efforts that created new symbols, gestures, and performances. Rising a clenched fist, once a symbol of protest and defiance, was re-signified as symbol demanding silence so the rescue teams could listen to the earthquake victims trapped in the rubble, stressing the importance of both, listening and life. This massive social mobilization of September 2017 happened just a few months before the beginning of the 2018 electoral campaigns, and built over previous mobilizations such as the protests raised to condemn the forced disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa, and the anticorruption movement. Protests and social mobilizations are increasingly demanding the enforcement of the law against state actors’ resistance. Based on our own previous research on collective action and participation, we draw from several sources in order to analyze the emergence of strategic dramaturgy, of sometimes less willed performances, and the unpredictable symbolic interactions that make performance and politics co-constitutive. The social mobilizations we analyze brought together different actors in a common effort that began rescuing earthquake victims and now are trying to reform the Mexican polity.