Though I arrived on Sunday night --leaving Boston just before the storm went from bad to worse--my first official activity was Monday morning. Having never been the guest of the US State Department, I didn't know what to expect. I did know that I was a little nervous, but not because I would be speaking to a bunch of legislators in their native language. My presentation about the US electoral system and the major political parties' challenge of reaching out to young voters was completed at 10pm (thank you Karla and Brandon for the help!) the night before I left. I was sure we'd find a typo or it would be boring, or something. It's always something.
The group was diverse, about 8 state legislators from the Distrito Federal (Mexico City) and more staff. Not too big as I would be trying out the Power Point on these 'guinea pigs'. They represented the three major political parties -- The PRI (the centrist party that is the oldest in Mexico), the PAN (the conservative party of the current president, Calderon) and the PRD (the governing party in the city), and one smaller youth party. After the Power Point, the most fascinating conversation ensued applying some of the observations made in the presentation.
On the 24th of April, their state assembly will be taking up a bill to liberalize their abortion law. It has been the most controversial bill in a decade. Three of the legislators who were supposed to be there were at the police station reporting death threats. What I saw in all of these legislators eyes was what I distinctly remember from our gay marriage debates: an understanding that everyone was, for once, actually paying attention.
While the tradition of church and state here is long and complicated, the Catholic Church remains powerful. But the left-leaning party in power, and the moderate parties are determined to decriminalize abortions. And by all accounts the public supports this liberalization. (Today, only abortions from a rape or for the mother's life are legal) Already protests have begun and it is a big deal.
So in the privacy of the assembly's offices, we discussed tying issues to values in a political message. What a great example for both sides to use in this exercise. I certainly hope the rest of these conversations will be as interesting.