I read Cod Satrusayang’s piece ‘Is it time for the students to be more politically savvy’ with great interest. (Read more here) Centrist in orientation, the article presents a soft, pragmatist view on the current political situation in Thailand. In particular, it seeks to offer a dovish approach to youth-led political reform during these uncertain times. True, for the movement to gain traction, we need to build a broad-based alliance. And surely, the young leaders should not alienate the conservative majority through their ‘loud, angry voices’. Instead, the article goes on to argue, they would fare better by reorienting the movement away from the monarchy towards the ‘main target’ that is the Prayuth government.
While I sympathize with his plea, let us recall the two things that distinguish today’s youth activism: style and substance. In reading the article, I cannot help but be reminded of the mantra we are told as Thai school kids: To get what we want, we must bow, defer, and not talk back. Aggressive is viewed as offensive, and variance as deviance. The youths today are different. They are loud, angry, and do not mince their words. They are comfortable with their coarse pronouns, with their expletive-strewn language of ee/ai hia and ee dok. ‘What blasphemy’, an elder Thai might say, fanning her hands in exasperation. Vulgarity? Perhaps. But in the youth’s eyes, their vulgar styles pale in comparison to decades of injustice, oppression, and ruleless rule, often sugar-coated as state benevolence, in the name of national harmony and security. They view that kowtowing to poo yai no longer suffices, and mannerism and civility is no longer a currency.
Being radical thus becomes their tactic of resistance.
Second, while the article calls for more ‘tangible goals’, the youths’ terms of the debate are different, as they are operating on different ideological — not pragmatic — grounds. Naive and not savvy, you may say. But from the gossip we hear on the train and the rants on Twitter, it is clear that they do not want a compromise, but a revamp, not a reform, but a revolution. In this sense, the incidents that the article dismisses as ‘unrelated’, from October 6th to the death of King Ananda, are, in fact, not marginal, but central to their cause.
Now make no mistake: they are aware of the complete disgrace that is the Prayuth administration. Heck, they have, as they would, gone the extra mile to expose, ridicule, and satirize the cabinet’s incompetence. But again, in quoting Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire, they ‘remember who the real enemy is’ and have long moved past Prayuth. What the article described, quite rightly, as ‘continued fascination’ is, in fact, their center of attention.
Yesterday, 44 years ago in October 1976, a young Thongchai Winichakul pleaded on a megaphone with the police in what became known as Thammasat Massacre, so loud he lost his voice, in a tone almost too polite and in words almost too sweet: ‘Brothers, please stop shooting. We gather in peace. We are not armed’.
Now see where civility has taken us.
These incidents, from October 6th to the dictatorships coloured by royalism, are not ‘unrelated’, after all.
Let’s hope for the best for what the youths of October 2020 will bring. Let’s support them where we can, for we are old enough to have known the immense power of youth’s fleeting hours.
And let’s cut the crap with Prayut being the ‘main target’, excusing my Thai.
By Napong Tao Rugkhapan