Sunday, 10 October 2010

October 10th- Democracy Monument

(sorry again no time to put up pictures, will do as soon as i get a moment)

We woke up in the morning and decide to get out and check around as some twitters reported movement of riot police around Ratchaprasong. We drove through the empty Rachadamri, few people in red shirts walking around and police officers lounging around in the heat. The reported barricades going up around intercontinental hotel were not there. We arrive at an empty Ratchaprasong around 11 as a roar comes from Rama I, echoed by the cement ceiling of the skytrain rails.

From that direction a caravan of red shirts in motorcycles gets closer to the intersection, giving full voice to their horns. In front a man I met many times carries the head-bones of a buffalo painted in red with written in thai “stop double standard”, besides him an older woman sits on the back of a motorbike wearing a big plastic hat with the shape of Democracy monument . Around him a river of red flags and few Thai flags. We decide to follow them and drive back into Ratchadamri. It must be around 300 hundred bikes, many of them motorcycle taxis, either wearing the orange vests or recognizable by the yellow plates on their bikes. “It is a matter of ideology” a driver tells me later “some people put on red shirts and take out their vests, some other, like me, come to protest as motorcycle taxis, with the vest.”

As we drive around some people timidly applaud or waive to the caravan, to show their support, mostly vendors, tuk-tuk drivers, or motorcycle taxis sitting at their station. The procession drives down Ratchadamri road and turn left into Sarasin. There another smaller caravan drives in the other direction, dialoguing with us through the horns. Right again into Wittayu road, left into Rama IV, Sala Daeng then back in the direction of Ratchaprasong. On Rama IV small groups of police officers waive to the caravan and take pictures, smiling. As we drive around more people join in, enlarging the ranks of the caravan retracing the geography of deaths during the May protests. Along the way the procession stops often, to remain compact. Some people shout “Here people die”, the new slogan of the Red Sundays, or voice their disappointment. “Fuck the people who order the killing” they repeat over and over again.

In front of the entrance of Lumpini Park the caravan stops to join with another group of people waiting there, parking bikes on the concrete pavement in front of the statue of Rama VI. Some people wai to the statue as other organize the group and distribute small hand-drawn maps of the route to take. The new plan is to drive in the direction of Victory Monument before going back to Democracy Monument, where the caravan started. A couple of people offer me I ride as the group that was waiting at the park gets on the bikes. A young woman covers her face with a banner “May 19th. 91 people died.” The procession starts again, back into Ratchadamri road in the direction of Ratchaprarop. The bikes are now more crowded, kids sitting on the front and red gadgets everywhere. Down the road a small groups of people stand on the side carrying a big picture of Seh Daeng, which the people greet as they pass by. As the group arrives to Ratchaprasong, directed by a larger number of police officers it stops again underneath the flyover, hoping to get some relief from the intense heat.

A man on a big bike tells me proudly “I brought my son” pointing at a small kid clung to his waist. “He needs to see this.” People around distribute red roses before getting moving again. As we get out of the area in the direction of Ding Daeng more people appear on the street, cheering the moving protest. The caravan keeps growing in size. There must be about 800 bikes by the time we get to Victory monument. Two laps of the round-about. Red shirts and flags with the backdrop of two big pictures of the Queen and the metallic statues of military jumping out of the monument. Again and again the group stops to remain compact as a young woman, carrying a big red flag and a plastic uzi gun, shouts directions to the first lines that then pass it back to the rest of the caravan. Soon enough the procession reach Ratchadamnoen, stretching on the large boulevard. Few hundred meters before Democracy Monument, where again red robes have been tied to form a spider web, the caravan stops. Performance is always a part of politics, especially in this country. The large group of red shirts filling Democracy Monument starts cheering. On this other side the horns answer, as the bikes stand still. A long moment of staticity, two groups staring at each other in the heat.

Few minutes after the flows break open and the red shirts at the monument shout and cheer as the caravan parades on the roundabout before parking. The monument has been once again reappropriated and transformed by the red shirts. Two large plastic banners, held up by people circle the monument. On the lower level images from the April and May events, the dead, the injured, the military firing. On the upper level old pictures of 14th October 1973, black on white. From these banners to the core of the monument red robes create a web, tied by a group of older women sitting in the shadow cast by the monument’s wings. Around the monument people are starting to write messages on the ground with pieces of chalk. Behind them two women hold up two boards with written in English “Take your happiness back. Give red shirts life & Democracy” and “We need Justice”. Around them people are dancing in the street, with music pouring out of the speakers of pickups and cars parked around.

Soon the crowd starts growing and the ubiquitous red shirts merchandise start popping up on both directions in Ratchadamnoen. In few hours the foot paths are overflowing with t-shirts, flip-flops, Cds, books, food, music, wrist bands, mugs. I meet one of the book sellers I know who always puts up shop at protest and he tells me of the September 19th protest in Chiang Mai and being stopped on the way at a police road block where the officers checked his books and told him to keep fighting also for them. Behind us a police trucks pass by, with a big red flag attached on a side. I greet him and walk into Dinso road where the pictures of the people that died on April 10th are laid out on the ground with sparse red candles burning in front. A donation box sits among them, where people stuff bills to support their families, often left without a breadwinner. We walk around for a bit and decide to get back home, consumed by the heat, as the protest keeps swelling. It is going to be a long evening at Democracy Monument.