Mexico City – The fliers promoting the kickoff rally for Claudia Sheinbaum’s presidential campaign posted an official start time of four in the afternoon, but by 2pm, the main square here in this capital city – popularly known as the Zocalo – was already teeming with thousands of supporters jostling for just a smidgen of elbow room and spilling out into the adjoining streets.

The closer to the Zocalo, the denser the crowd, and the harder it was to move, until eventually, right before reaching the square, the movement of the crowd slowed, then came to a virtual standstill. With bodies pressed close together as they tried vainly to squeeze past each other, a sense of unease fell over the crowd, and panic began to show on some faces. Then a loud voice rang out, calling for calm.

“We’re all Morenistas here! Let’s take care of each other!” yelled the voice, using a common term to refer to supporters of the leftist political party, Morena, founded by Mexico’s outgoing president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The crowd immediately began to settle down, the bottleneck dissipated and the Morenistas continued on their way, most finding a relatively comfortable patch of the Zocalo from which to cheer on Sheinbaum, Mexico City’s governor, and Lopez Obrador’s protege. Mexico City officials estimate that 350,000 people – roughly the entire population of Cleveland, Ohio – attended the March 1 kickoff rally.

Only a decade after it was founded, Morena – both an acronym for the National Regeneration Movement and a Biblical allusion to Mexico’s Indigenous version of the Virgin Mary who is often referred to as La Morena, meaning the “brown one” – is, by most accounts, uniting the world’s most populous Spanish-speaking country, modernising the state, and recalibrating the relationship between the governed and their government.

The key figure in this political movement is the 70-year-old Lopez Obrador, who has gained an almost cult-like following since 2018, when voters elected him by a nearly two-to-one margin over his closest rival. Elected on a campaign promise to “put the poor first”, Morena and Lopez Obrador – widely known as AMLO – have enacted a series of Keynesian reforms intended to increase consumer buying power, reminiscent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.