For the Global Thinker

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"What the Red Shirts needed was a Rosa Parks, Not a Thaksin Shiniwatra."

Anti-government demonstrators are arrested by Thai soldiers in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was riding home from work when the bus started to fill up with white passengers. The driver demanded that black passengers seated in the middle rows vacate their seats. Parks refused and was arrested.

"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true," Parks wrote in her autobiography. "I was not tired physically. No, the only tired I was...was tired of giving in."

This was the spark that ignited one of the most successful protests in history. Martin Luther King explains that Rosa Parks a microcosm of the civil rights movement:

"Mrs. Parks' arrest was the precipitating factor rather than the cause of the protest. The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices." Furthermore, "Parks was a particularly valuable activist because she was known as one of the finest citizens in Montgomery, white or black."

Contrast this with the Red Shirts paragon of inspiration, former Thai PM, Thaksin Shiniwatra. His time in office was characterized by corruption, authoritarianism, press censorship and tax evasion. Independent bodies, including Amnesty International, criticized Thaksin's human rights record, in particular, his brutal anti-drug campaigns.

One of Bangkok's finest citizens...surely he was not. Though, many poor people mistakenly saw him as a saint. And no wonder, he reduced poverty and introduced universal health care to Thailand. What the poor people of Thailand failed to recognize was that Thaksin didn't care about their future, he cared about his.

I remember when Thaksin was first ousted and the BBC and CNN were crying fowl saying that this was a "blow to democracy." Local news, on the other hand, seemed to be a lot more informed:

In an editorial, The Nation noted it "fails to take into consideration a major fallacy of the concept [of democracy], particularly in a less-developed democracy like ours, in which the impoverished, poorly informed masses are easily manipulated...and Thaksin's manipulation has been well documented."

Now I'm not saying that the Red Shirts are wrong and that they should stop protesting. On the contrary, I think more Thai people need to take an interest in the direction of their country and start protesting. Like Martin Luther King said, Rosa Parks was an amazing inspiration, but "the cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices."

As one BBC journalist stated recently:

"The anti-government red-shirt movement has evolved. They are more politically aware - and more in tune with their working class urban comrades - than many have given them credit for. This has gone way beyond one man. This has become a bitter battle between the forces of the established status quo and a movement for social reform."

The Red Shirts mistakenly saw Thaksin as their savior because poor people will cling onto anything that gives them hope. They have to move past him and continue to seek allies in the real war...the war on poverty. I think the biggest mistake Thailand can make right now is to let the government suppress the protests and return to business as usual. This will return Thais to the familiar position of fearing their government when in fact- in any true democracy-the government should fear the people. This is why Thailand needs a Rosa Parks, not another Thaksin Shiniwatra.

Mike Williams

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