THAILAND LETTER: Lessons learned
CPTnet 15 June 2010 THAILAND LETTER: Lessons learnedby Rey Lopez
[Note: With the support of the CPT-Philippines regional group, CPTer Rey Lopez traveled to Thailand as a peace observer to document how the Red Shirts nonviolent movement played out in Bangkok. His letters have been edited for length and clarity.]
7 June 2010
My Dear Thai friends,
I recently took a ten-day vacation in a Filipino province where the New People's Army (NPA) has a significant presence, somewhere in the Sierra Madre range. The mountain range acts as a shelter and safe base for Filipino activists working in the Philippine urban areasâ€”in trade union movements, urban poor communities, or sectors like women, youth, tribal minorities, and fisher folks. They seek refuge in the Sierra Madre whenever the legal organizing in the urban white areas is getting dangerous.
I have been musing on the Thai nonviolent movement lately. When the entire senior leadership of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) surrendered peacefully to the Thai authorities, that was nonviolence in its highest formâ€”taking responsibilities for the cause you believe in rather than fleeing to the countryside or abroad and leaving the flocks for the slaughter. The Red Shirt movement was able to assert its moral superiority to the beast. At the same time, it rendered the entire Thai mass movement orphaned. But not for longâ€”whenever two or three people are gathered in the name of the Lord of liberation, a seed of liberation is in their midst.
There are lessons to be learned from the sixty-day battle of Bangkok. One lesson is that massive formation of nonviolent activists can disarm the might of the beast. I thought at one critical moment on 10 April that that the army and the police would completely refuse their line of command, but it did not happen.
Second, when the Thai army started their free firing into central Bangkok, there was no corresponding adjustment in the strategy of nonviolence from the Red Shirts leadership. I think they should have adjusted to the new situation by dispersing their organized forces into the countryside, where the terrain and organizations there would help them. The UDD leadership should not have wasted valuable resources and people power in an area that they could not hold for long, central Bangkok. A nonviolent mass movement is about influencing the organized masses for the common good and not about holding a specific territory.
I would like to quote a bike-riding Thai Red Shirt prachahon who was on his way home after the battle of Bangkok and shouted to a truckload of Thai army soldiers, "See you next Songkran [Thai New Year] in Bangkok." Yes indeed, the Thai struggle goes on. The Red Shirts will be back to claim their rightful place under the warm Thai sun as free people. "For under the breast of every Thai is a beating red heart" yearning to be freed from the remnants of Thai feudalism.
The whole world will have to learn important lessons from the nonviolent movement of the Thai Red Shirts prachachons, both positive and negative. I can just imagine that the CIA station in Bangkok must be very busy these last few months and will continue to try figuring out how to contain the social consequences of the Red Shirt social movement, not only in Thailand, but also in the entire Asian continent.
Reynaldo C. Lopez