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BUENOS AIRES – “He can’t stop coughing/working 12-hour-long shifts/he makes two meager coins a day to support a family of four/and don’t talk to me about meritocracy, don’t be funny, don’t screw with me/because without opportunities/that mierda doesn’t work.”
It’s hard to miss the frustration driving the lyrics of “Canguro,” a song written by 21-year-old Argentine trap star Wos, whose criticisms of the status quo under President Mauricio Macri have struck a chord with many. Debuting just days before the August primary election that delivered a blow to Macri’s reelection prospects, the song quickly climbed the charts and has racked up over 44 million views on YouTube.
Wos is among a cohort of young public figures who have used popular culture and social media to mobilize opposition to Macri among youth. The demographic has been hit particularly hard by the recession under the current government. In the second quarter of 2019, unemployment among ages 14 to 29 rose to 18.6% for men and to 23.4% for women, according to the latest government figures.
In the primary, significant support from this demographic was decisive in the victory of Peronist candidate Alberto Fernández and his running mate, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. As the October 27 general election approaches, the impact of figures like Wos, and of their ability to rebrand Peronism as a popular alternative to the economic woes under Macri, is coming into focus.
“The government didn’t react to a cultural phenomenon,” said Lucas Romero, director of Synopsis, a consulting firm in Argentina. “It became cool to be anti-Macri.”
One Generation Z member leading that effort is Ofelia Fernández, a former student activist turned Peronist politician who shares no relation to Alberto or Cristina. At just 19, she is poised to become the youngest city legislator in the history of Buenos Aires.
A trained actress, Ofelia has become a regular presence on Argentine television, commands a growing social media following, and just starred in a music video for Argentine rapper Sara Hebe. An Ipsos report on Generation Z Argentines recently positioned Ofelia alongside Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Emma Watson as the figures the demographic most aspires to be like.
Ofelia’s ascendance within politics and within Peronism underscores the coalition’s strengths in connecting with young voters on cultural issues.
In recent years, Ofelia has grown her profile as a leader in Argentina’s movements against gender violence and for legal abortion. She pointed to both issues as areas where Alberto Fernández has been able to connect with young voters. The Ipsos report found that feminism, abortion, and inclusive politics are among the top issues of importance to Generation Z Argentines, who make up more than a fifth of eligible voters this year.
“We were raised in a context where people gained more rights, and the political debate entered into social circles,” said Ofelia.
During the campaign, the Peronists have understood these concerns. Although officially registered as the Frente de Todos (Everybody’s Front), the coalition’s logo replaced the second “o” in Todos with a strategically placed sun – a nod to supporters who see a masculine “o” as sexist when it refers to more than just men. Substituting an “x” or an “e” has become a symbol of gender inclusivity among young people in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America.
Meanwhile, Ofelia assures that progress on legalizing abortion will be a “priority” for an eventual Everybody’s Front administration.
“It will be a priority for the feminist movement, so it will be one for the government too.”
Another young figure who has helped Alberto Fernández connect with Generation Z voters is the candidate’s own son, Estanislao, a drag queen and cosplayer whose public profile rose after his father announced his candidacy. Estanislao Fernández, whose drag name is Dyhzy, has been actively campaigning to his wide social media following, helping make his father more relatable.
The visibility of young people in Alberto Fernández’s campaign contrasts to the demographics of Macri’s most staunch advocates, who include actors like Alfredo Casero, Juan Acosta and Luis Brandoni, and Oscar-winning director Juan José Campanella – each affluent, male and over 55.
“It feels like there was a lack of willingness from the government to connect with the youth,” said Romero, the pollster. “I never saw them do anything to turn the situation around. They did not have any legitimate young representatives”
Ofelia Fernández, meanwhile, attributes Everybody Front’s youth appeal to a “healthy coexistence” between traditional Peronists and younger activists.
“There is room for the youth in these spaces. We managed to get some interesting young candidates on the lists, which illustrates how the youth are valued,” Ofelia told AQ.
“The larger our presence in politics is, the more interested the youth are going to be.”
This piece has been updated to include new numbers on youth unemployment.
Bio is an Argentine journalist based in Buenos Aires. He is an editor at Infobae.