Bridging Youth Activism with Governing | Big Bold Cities

Bridging Youth Activism with Governing

Building a political party for the 21st century

three colored squaresBridging Youth Activism with Governing


Wikipolitica is a social and political movement that seeks to re-establish the central role of the community in politics and policymaking. It was created by student activists disillusioned with corruption and elitism in Mexico’s politics, and it is part political party, part activist group, and part open-source community. Wikipolitica’s 6 local nodes run independent candidates for office. They model open, collaborative governance with decentralized decision-making. They run local transparency and accountability projects, complete with hashtags. The network gained national attention in Mexico in 2015, when Wikipolitica spearheaded and supported the successful campaign of 25-year-old Pedro Kumamoto for an independent seat in the Jalisco Congress. By 2018, the network was supporting 17 candidates at the local and federal levels. 

Democratic Challenge  

In 2012, the U.S. National Intelligence Council questioned whether governance institutions around the world would prove to be resilient in the face of rapid technological and social change, including the empowerment of new groups. “Will governments and institutions be able to adapt fast enough to harness change instead of being overwhelmed by it?,” the Global Trends 2030 report asked. The pressure on institutions, including political parties, has only intensified since that was written. To fill the gap, less democratic or antidemocratic movements are on the rise. Decentralized, pro-democratic activist movements are also stepping into the breach, but it is uncertain whether they can make the transition from activism to formal politics and governing.

How Did They Do It?   

2011 was a landmark year for street protests: the Arab Spring, the 15-M anti-austerity movement in Spain, Occupy Wall Street. That wave of activism broke across Mexico in 2012 with the #YoSoy132 student protest movement, which inspired thousands of young Mexicans to become politically engaged. But after the protests, organizers debated the future of their movement for months.

Activist Pedro Kumamoto told Open Democracy that they didn’t want to choose one path—they wanted to have policy impact, and reclaim democratic institutions, and keep up the pressure in the streets. They wondered what it would look like to create a truly democratic and decentralized political movement—a ‘wikiparty’ that would lower barriers to political participation and model a more open, collaborative style of governing. The Jalisco branch saw an opportunity for proof-of-concept in 2015, in the 10th district for their state legislature. They put Kumamoto forward as an independent candidate on a pragmatic citizen-empowerment and good-governance platform. They mounted a grassroots, small-donor, social-media savvy campaign, and they won. (The El Pais headline read, “Pedro Kumamoto, the candidate of 500 dollars, wins in Jalisco.”) In office, Kumamoto donated 70 percent of his salary and published a list of every single vote he took in the Jalisco Congress, with an explanation.

In a 2017 interview with Big Bold Cities, Kumamoto’s staff members described Wikipolitica as doing politics differently.

“We’ve heard ‘no’ a lot of times, but we want to show there is reason for a spirit of hope,” one staffer said. They also said that the constant and exponential growth of civil society in Jalisco is the source of greatest excitement. “Civil society is not only growing, but it’s becoming more demanding and professionalizing their organizations. They’re looking for realistic solutions to real problems.”


How Is It Going?   

From Independents to a New Party. Kumamoto’s victory attracted a wave of new supporters to Wikipolitica. By 2018, Wikipolitica was supporting two candidates for the federal Senate (Kumamoto and Juanita Delgado,) three candidates for the federal Chamber of Deputies, and 13 candidates for local legislatures in five states. However, high-profile candidates failed to win seats despite winning votes, revealing the limits of independent candidacies. In January 2019, the Wikipolitica Jalisco chapter ceased operations and its leaders took different paths to continue their political engagement. Some are forming Futuro, a local political party, while others are forming new civil-society groups or joining established coalitions or initiatives such as Tómala, a civil-society platform which supports dialogue and projects on anti-corruption, gender inclusion, citizen participation and more. Wikipolitica MX still has six chapters across five states.

Policy Innovation. In 2017 Kumamoto scored a major victory when the Jalisco Congress modified its constitution to slash the amount of public funding received by political parties. (The decision was upheld by the Mexican Supreme Court, paving the way for such a reform in other states.) 

Governance Innovation. Wikipolitica Jalisco experimented with different internal structures and was always iterating. It had a Local Assembly made up of all voting members, which appointed three governing bodies: a political council for strategic planning; a supervisory board for compliance and dispute resolution; and an executive team which managed operations. Membership was open to all, and a transparent Merit System rewarded active participation and commitment with voting rights as well as community responsibilities.

Innovation Point of Contact


Who Else Is Trying This


The Spanish anti-austerity movement 15-M relied on social media and free software to organize and govern landmark protests. A few years later, the same participatory, decentralized model disrupted electoral politics in the form of new parties and coalitions: Podemos, Ahora Madrid, Barcelona en Comu, Zaragoza en Comun and others. In Madrid, 15-M activist Pablo Soto was elected to the city council and implemented the participatory platform Decide Madrid, powered by open-source software Consul. The software is now being used in 33 countries by 100 institutions. Read more

São Paulo, Brazil

Bancada Ativista (The Activist Bench) was organized to support slates of activists running for local office, to ‘oxygenate’ politics with a ‘radically participatory’ political program. In addition to turning out votes for its candidates, it wants to support ongoing dialogue between candidates, civic activists and constituents, and capture learning to develop a template for collaborative civic electoral campaigns. Read more