Over the past four years, my outreach activities, with the repertoire of contention, have been shaped and monitored by community leaders and youth representatives within the region. I see some improvements among empowered marginalized groups, at least in the advancement of shifting from conventional sentiment to a somewhat intense exchange of views.
By incorporating the principles of participation, firmly on the operational foundation that the expertise and relevance undeniably are from the affected community, such “values” are ingrained leading to the realization that they are rightfully the stakeholders. After all, the issues, needs and concerns affect their lives more than the clueless bureaucracy and heavy-hand of overzealous moralists.
Its not just about healthcare, harm reduction of drug-use, mental health and poverty that concerns me. Lack of quality education, or the continuation of a failed system, along with unemployment among ostracised young people and the lack of rights-based approach in government-managed programs. Worthwhile to mention that the conflicts in the three “ThaiSouth” provinces, the growing gang-violence in Bangkok and the perpetual growth of disillusionment among youths, are usually stigmatized or ignored by the establishment, unless of course it receives a severe backlash in the media… which is of course rare in post-coup Thailand.
The absence, the lack of visibility, or the lack of regularity, of social activism is worrying.
Ideas, and boasts, of intellectual-elitist superiority have a habit of leaving their mark on the junta-fearing local press, giving no credibility of action or sustainability. Hot air, fiery political rhetoric, pretentious, decorate the media space, from blogs to news portals, leave readers in exasperated impressions of the state of advocacy in Thailand.
Seems to me, everyone has an opinion about everything under the Thai sky, but I barely see the educated social superiority walking the talk, much less show support. A common societal flaw, coupled with the nationalistic groups that purport an expansive comprehension of a situation, when in reality their knowledge is limited or inaccurate. Offering much to my cynical tendencies, the death of democracy comes with a heavy price-tag, that dejected absence of logic in the collective.
Perception of marginalization, from the questionable uncouth behaviours of young people to their deserving exploitation, is common and in many aspects of the communal melting-pot, young individuals should submit to the whims of a repetitive cycle of mistakes and human error. In fact, I found such elaborated adult viewpoint and the mainstream intellectuals prevalent in Southeast Asia. Perhaps courtesy of indoctrination, spanning decades, of the political machinery, along with society’s addiction to position people within the grand hierarchy, and naturally those seen as delinquents and deviants are placed at the bottom… or have them removed completely, out of the equation.
Once in a while, I meet inspiring nonconformists of Thai society. This time around, a young woman by the name of Nattanan Warintarawet. At 17, she talks within the dimension of student activism, of recognizing that youths are subject of rights rather than mere recipients of adult ‘wisdom’, and that those rights demand that young people are entitled to be heard.
She reminds me so much of 28-year-old Rani Asmah, who hails from Yala and presently works in Bangkok. Rani, runs a small support group for Muslim women of her generation while juggling her work responsibility. One a student in a Bangkok school, and the other a labourer in a wet market deep in the labyrinth of the old city. The two women share the need for social justice in a realm that depends heavily on seniority-conscience traditions and at times, chauvinism.
Nattanan explains that the student movement, the Education for Liberation of Siam is small but alive with activities, ranging from youth discussions to peaceful protests. Often the group disseminate awareness in symbolic functionalism, and social media is used extensively for advocacy. I brought to her attention, the staggering outlook how a group of mainly Bangkok-based students lobbys for reform against the ivory walls of the military-led government and the overbearing presence of traditionalists. “Do you think there is a chance?” I asked. She paused in thought.
We still have a chance to fight for academic freedom and freedom of speech. The power of youth is that we have hopes and determination to fight for what (we) believe. Their values won’t allow us to critically think for ourselves.
The student activist talks about the 12 moral values that all Thai students must adhere to, as dictated by the present prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. A small protest in October left the Thai education minister flabbergasted, as he called them “abnormal” for rejecting the doctrine. Nattanan thinks the ministry has asked her school to keep an eye on her. She explains that they are not anti-government, but wants change for the best interest of students; change for and by young people. She rejects the belief that all adults know what’s best for young people.
We spoke about marginalization.
Because we don’t support the (mainstream) views, we are demonized. They try to link me to (former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra, saying that I am a redshirt. Just because I have a different opinion than the government does not mean I am on Thaksin’s side.
We need open debate about academic freedom without fear of repression. Different beliefs are not the cause of conflict. Conflict is caused by the inability to express. Some think that we don’t love our country and that we are lazy students. But that’s not true.
And support from the academics?
We struggle to find academics to support (us). They fear consequences. They don’t want to be forced to go to the police station. To be intimidated. After the coup, I see many leaders shut-up and some have left.
What of advocacy on social media?
We like Facebook! Almost everyone has a Facebook profile and is more popular than Twitter or blogging. We feel comfortable in expressing ourselves via social media, especially among people with mutual interest. Empowerment is about being aware so we raise awareness with our peers. Maybe the authorities will fully realise that students matter.
Adults, whether politician, bureaucrat, soldier, enforcer, teacher and even activist, need to learn and adapt to work closely in partnership with young people and children, particularly to articulate rights and understanding. The educational design of Thailand is in the state of retrogression. Without the involvement of students in decision-making, the system has lost any resemblance of vitality and lacking comprehension of its overall purpose.
Its not enough to give young people the right to be listened to. Its also essential to take what they express seriously.
Democratic participation is not an end to itself. Proficiencies that equip young people, such as with life skills, are needed for self-advocacy and having the capacity to make informed decisions. Solidarity and mutual understanding, among students, whether living in rural or urban Thailand would do well to bridge the gap between young people. And what about the impact upon youths in times of conflict as in the ThaiSouth and the political tensions that delay set-up democratic mechanism? If they are expected to conform to a junta-sanctioned rigid mindset, how would that positively influence the future of Thailand, or one that would result in a negation of sociocultural evolution?
Listening to young people is all about respecting them. Through this simple act, we help them and ourselves learn to value the importance of respecting others.