The current political situation in Thailand features two main groups: the Red Shirts, who are pro-government, and the Yellow Shirts, who want a new form of government. The Northeast region of Thailand is predominantly composed of people who identify with the Red Shirt movement. Red Shirts are often stereotyped as the poorer, rural population composed of many farmers and those with less education than the middle to upper class urban elites stereotyped as the Yellow Shirts. But the Red Shirt movement is so much more complex and diverse than simply the poor Isaan farmer with little education that supports Thaksin, Thailand’s former Prime Minister.
Within Unit 5, which focused on democracy and politics in Thailand, we had the opportunity to speak with many different people from all walks of life that identify as Red Shirts.
Sabinah Shah, or Jo, is a Red Shirt leader and radio show host, discussing politics. She considers democracy as the “voice of the people…everyone must be equal…everyone must be under the same standards of laws.” Along with equality in democracy, she believes every person should have one vote, “no matter how rich you are.” Active at protests and a leader at the recent Red Shirt rally in Bangkok on April 5th and 6th, she says that protests “are not a fun thing…[they are] risky, but people come out to protect their rights.”
Sohm Sang, 56, is an avid protector of rights; he is a security guard for the Red Shirt movement. Like Jo, he went to the rally in Bangkok in April to “protect the Red Shirts.” He considers the future generation in his political ideology, saying how “we have to fight for future generations…to be able to live their life.” For Sohm, democracy “means equality…we are the same; we are not being oppressed.” He also feels that the voices of the lower class are “not being heard,” and that if the Red Shirt movement fails, then “the poor will continue being oppressed.” Though he is a security guard, he does not carry weapons, but only “a flashlight.” Despite being weaponless, he says, “I am never scared because my heart wants to fight for righteousness.”
Senator Wan sides with the Red Shirts in part because he views the Red Shirts as “doing things according to law…[while] the Yellow Shirts are breaking the law.” He does not readily define democracy, instead saying that it “cannot be define yet; every person has their own [definition].” He does say that for a democracy there needs to be “majority votes,” and “if there is no election, it is not fair and democratic.” In addition to elections and majority votes, Senator Wan think there needs to be a reformed Constitution that “should respond to everyone’s needs in society.”
It has been a fascinating journey through this Unit, speaking to radio show hosts, security guards, senators, academics, and a myriad of other people about the Red Shirt movement in Thailand. It has been especially enlightening to see through the stereotype that all Red Shirts are rural farmers, and add dimension, perspective, and complexity to the Red Shirt movement. Democracy and equality have come up again and again, but different people focus on different tactics and goals for their movement, or just have an interesting opinion to offer. All these people identify as Red Shirts, but hold different perspectives within the movement. Some consider the Constitution, others use radio as an outreach and education tool, others want to fight for justice. The Red Shirt movement, instead of simply “red, ” seems more a rich array of colors, each adding vibrancy to the movement.