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04/27/2014

Group Cooperation and National Democracy, Maren Meyers

Red Shirt Rally

After our four main units (agriculture, land rights, dams and mines) came to an end, our group of sixteen development and globalization students had the opportunity to decide on  topic of our own, self-directed unit. The ultimate purpose of this unit is to delve into a subject that surfaced over the semester that peaked interest but where there wasn’t room to deeply investigate.

As we brainstormed ideas in a session planned by our fantastic unit 5 facilitators, the group spat out ideas and discussed interest levels in topics ranging from gender and equality, animal rights, environmental health to government. However, we ultimately decided on the topic of democracy through a process of consensus—a process that we have become very familiar with as we teach each other and guide ourselves through this educational process. Group consensus has become a tool that our group depends on to make major decisions in terms of future actions. One of the main challenges and learning experiences of this whole program stems from the fact that we must operate as a cohesive unit in order to agree upon and reach goals. These goals are set to ensure we learn as much as we can content-wise before delving into our unit topics in a more real-life, people to people exchange setting as well as while we are on site during the field portion of the unit.

The consensus decisions surrounding Unit 5 were largely based on our experiences, or lack thereof, with the political crisis that has been developing throughout the country over the past few months. Throughout the whole semester, the political situation here in Thailand has been something continually intertwined with our focus topics and, as a result, has been ever present in the back of our minds. From regular security updates from our program director Ajaan Dave to meetings called to review of emergency action plans in case of a military coup to the farmers and villagers who vent to us about how they have been harmed by ex-Prime Minister Thaksin’s supposed populist policies, the situation has been something that we have gained unique details on but never fully comprehended.

Thus, when it became apparent that we have the most resources and the highest quality connections to pursue a politically-based topic, at least when compared to the other topics that had originally sparked our interest, it became easy for the group to reach a unanimous decision to investigate democracy in Thailand.

That decision proved wise when we received our schedule for the unit. We had the enormous privilege of speaking to very opinionated individuals from both the red and yellow shirt perspective—both sides of the political divide. We have gained insights from renowned activist and Sulak Sivaraksa to every day small business owners. This multifaceted investigation of the political situation has allowed us to evaluate both the current developmental status of Thailand as well as to investigate the current democratic status of our own country. While a solution to the problems seems out of reach at this point, there is immense value in exploring the options of improving democracy and questions the supposed ideal systems of democracy other places in the world. All of the knowledge gained would not have been possible if it were not for the ability of our group to utilize tools of cooperation and work toward a common goal of self-information. 

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