PPT went out to watch the red shirt caravan encircle Bangkok yesterday (Saturday). We have already posted on various aspects of the event, so in this post, we just provide our impressions.
In setting out to watch the caravan, PPT first followed it on television, where a couple of stations had sporadic reports and then TNN began to provide increasing coverage around 11 a.m. The coverage showed a huge convoy, with crowds along the route welcoming it.
At that time, PPT decided to get to the Soi 71 intersection of Sukhumvit Road, where the caravan was due to pass and then turn onto Rama IV to travel past Klong Toei. PPT arrived just not long before the first caravan vehicles did. From about 1:35 p.m., led by a lone motorcycle carrying a large national flag, the convoy began to pass. With police and red shirt traffic controllers stopping the rally from time to time to allow traffic to pass along Sukhumvit, PPT stayed until about 5:45 p.m. Apart from those short traffic breaks, the caravan kept pouring past. When PPT left, they were still coming, and a quick look up Soi 71 showed no end to it.
The media has reported that the caravan was anywhere between 10 and 25 kilometers long and included 25,000 to 65,000 people. PPT thinks it was much bigger. But how do we know for sure. All we can say is that for just over 4 hours, tens of thousands of people in cars (almost all Bangkok registered), pick-ups, tuk-tuks, high-end bicycles, trucks, taxis, and thousands upon thousands of motorcycles paraded past us in a jubilant mood. On the street around us, and as far as we could see up Soi 71, down to Rama IV and along that road, there were crowds of people seeking every vantage point to wave and cheer.
When normal traffic was squirted through, almost every driver of pick-ups, trucks and buses waved to the crowd and received cheers in response. One such instance worthy of mention involved a no. 40 bus (hope we got the number right) that came past had the driver wearing a red headband and the conductor waving a heart-shaped clapper out the window.
Like a mammoth temple fair procession, the caravaneers smiled, laughed, shouted, waved and danced as they went past. The people near PPT welcomed them in a similarly joyous mood. Smiles and laughing everywhere. A more good-natured event you could not find and that pretty much matches the atmosphere at rally at Rajadamnoen when PPT has been down there.
The people around PPT, often in family groups, were mainly local workers, from hotels, restaurants, construction sites, hawkers, motorcycle taxi riders, and the odd white-collar worker. The class-based solidarity of the working class and related groups in this event was unambiguous.
The caravan and the crowds welcoming them were not, in PPT’s opinion, a match for those at the Rajadamnoen rally site. This huge group of caravaneers and their supporters seemed younger. Especially the motorcyclists seemed mostly to be in their 20s and 30s, indicating that the Saturday event had tapped into a group that wasn’t always able to be at the main rally site. Some of the motorcycles bore families; the record number on one small bike was mum, dad, and 3 kids.
PPT thinks that the vast majority of participants on motorcycles probably live and work in and near Bangkok. We have no real evidence, but the motorcycles were almost all Bangkok registered. Also, when signs were waved some of them identified areas where the groups were from, and these included housing estates in Bangkok’s outer suburbs.
Many women were also noticed. One kingcab pick-up stopped for a rest right in front of PPT loaded with women and while “resting” they sang and danced to a tune being beaten out from a broken down pick-up (also mostly women) who decided to just keep going with their chants and cheers while immobilized. One Muslim woman was spectacular in red, with a sparkling red head scarf.
Marching and rallying in Bangkok usually involves symbols of nation and monarch. In this case, while national flags were there in big numbers (red in the flag for the blood of those who have sacrificed for the country), symbols of the monarchy were few and far between. PPT counted 7 photos of the king, all exactly the same and taped to windows of pick-ups. Photos of Thaksin Shinawatra were more common, but not ubiquitous. When a group handed out pro-Thaksin newspapers, some were held up to wave a picture of Thaksin while others were used to sit on when people needed a break. People TV also handed out CDs for people to take home and watch.
There were said to be 11 groups in the whole caravan. It was difficult to distinguish them, but when Nattawut Saikua’s truck arrived, there was a huge group of other vehicles clustered around it. As the truck turned onto Sukhumvit, Nattawut called for a cheer and an enormous “chaiyo” went up. He got the biggest and loudest reception that PPT heard. By that stage, about 6 hours after the parade began in very hot weather, he was also sounding pretty hoarse.
The most noticeable thing for PPT was the exuberant solidarity. All those near us were in a festive mood, with emotions running high, not in any negative way, but in a joyous way. This was, for many, an opportunity to be heard again following the rejection of their votes in previous years.
PPT has never seen anything like this event anywhere. It was huge. It will be seen as historic. Despite the heat and traffic fumes, it was a wonderful event to be a part of.
Those who hate and fear the red shirts will not agree with this assessment. Where there was joy and exuberance, they’ll see the hand of Thaksin. Already they are claiming that these people were paid. As PPT has been saying in recent posts, this now makes for dangerous times.
It was reported that “concerned” by new arrivals to the rally – despite only yesterday having it reported that hardly anyone seemed to be coming (see here – http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/34731/mass-replacement-drive-falters). Can the government respond to a huge and peaceful protest in any meaningful way or do they get tougher and darker?