The red shirt protests of 2010 was a watershed event in the recent political history of Thailand. Many young political leaders in Thailand today were old enough to remember the events but not old enough to have participated in any measurable way.
Despite this, the lessons of mass organization, the possibility of state violence and the role the military played a decade ago during those restless days in April and May continue to haunt, motivate and push the leaders of today to create a better society.
For student protest leader and activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, 2010 was an idyllic time, one where he had not yet reached any sort of political awakening.
“I was only 14 years old when everything happened, just starting my second year of high school,” Netiwit told Thai Enquirer. “I wasn’t even that interested in politics, I just remember how chaotic it all seemed on the television.”
Netiwit said that the protest of 2010 set in motion the events which led him to question the status quote. “I was accused of being a red shirt after for asking questions, for questioning why things were,” he said. “I did not even know what a red shirt was when I started asking questions, but they accused me of being one anyway.”
Looking back on the protest, Netiwit said, “I think it is brave what they did, what they are still trying to do. They continue to fight for justice against a state that does not mind killing its own citizens.”
Whether it is them or the protesters from October 14 , October 6 , or May 1992, we are still waiting on justice, he said.
Former Parliamentarian Pannika Wanich was a bit older when the red shirt protests happened. She was 21.
“I was an intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time,” she told Thai Enquirer. “After work I would go to the protest to listen to the speeches and get to know what it was the protesters were fighting for.”
“It wasn’t like what the media was saying, it wasn’t just about Thaksin versus Abhisit. These people, unlike what the media were making them out to be, were educated, the understood democracy and they were asking the right questions.”
Pannika said that what affected her most was not just the killings but what happened the day after the killings.
Just a few hours earlier, many people died on the streets of Bangkok. The next day Governor Sukhumbhand [Paribatra] held a ‘big clean up’ event and all the middle class of Thailand came out to clean up the area, she said.
“They wanted to make Bangkok beautiful again, how can they be so callous?” she said.
Pannika said that the events of 2010 inspired her for her masters in Global Politics and Peace Processes and said that she entered politics, eventually becoming an MP for the Future Forward Party, to prevent the events of 2010 from ever happening again.
“I want to build a better society,” she said.
For Sirin ‘Fleur’ Mungcharoen, the events of 2010 are too distant to recall in detail.
“I was only 12 then,” she told Thai Enquirer. “I just remember what I saw on the news and saw what they were saying. The news focused on the burning and the hate speech.”
Sirin said she did not know any better because she was not yet politically active.
“It just goes to show how the media can manipulate events because I did not learn the true history of things until my first year of university when people started talking about the politics of it.”
Sirin said that the student movements of today are separate from the red shirt protest and that they are fighting in a different way and for different reasons.
“But what the red shirt protests taught me is to be afraid because the powers that be will still use violence against all that threatens their power.”
Rangsiman Rome was only 18 when the violence and protests occurred.
“Being from Phuket, it was hard to identify as being a red shirt,” Rome told Thai Enquirer. “I think the people surrounding me were all yellow or a-political.”
What I saw of the protests, I saw on television. I saw people getting killed for expressing a political belief, I saw people getting hurt for wanting change, he said.
“I am not yellow or red but what I feel is that no one should lose their life because they don’t agree with the government,” he said.
Rome said that the reason the protests happened was because of the 2006 coup and that the cycle of coups and military involvement in politics still has not changed and it is ‘problematic.’
The army chief of 2010 and the coup leaders of 2014 are still in power today, he said. “This is injustice. This is why I joined politics, This is why I am a parliamentarian.”
“We need to change this cycle and make our country a better place.”