The Emancipation of Chiang Mai Provincial Hall

It was supposed to be just another regular day at my job at Chiang Mai’s Provincial Hall on 28 October 2008, but when I rode up on my motorbike, there were a couple thousand people outside.  Apparently, legions of farmers gathered to protest the Thai government’s low purchase rates for large quantities of corn from the former.  The city hall workers had to use a separate side entrance, as the front entrance was used as a platform for the spokespersons.  During the afternoon, the rallies and speeches began to escalate, and many of the participants began to surround the square-shaped building.  The blockades and military officers – clad in riot gear – secured the entry ways, but it became suddenly clear: no one was leaving the building, until the protestors’ needs were addressed.

It’s interesting how in the States, if you protest outside a building, you have to be 50 feet or some other arbitrary number of feet away from the entrance.  At City Hall, the iron gates are inside, acting as a barricade from possible breaching (I felt like saying “invasion,” but that sounds so pejorative).  I know this was a diplomatic (and completely non-violent) display, which is good in a country afflicted by instances of corruption and disenfranchisement – as I write this, I think the September-installed Thai prime minister may be pushed out of office in the near future – but being trapped in city hall pretty much… sucked!  “Your fight isn’t with us city workers, it’s with the Man!  Please let us go,” I selfishly thought, as I tried my best to not stress binge on the nearest coconut snacks and chocolate stick pastries I could find.

I think there was some government committee in the building which cranked out a statement that addressed the farmers’ demands, who were subsequently and understandably, still suspicious and skeptical.  During this negotiation period, the women were going to be allowed to be released, but this didn’t end up happening.  Some folks were released, though, like pregnant women, older people, monks, and children with disabilities and their parents.  Eventually the protestors received a satisfactory statement, it was already nighttime – the whole thing lasted from 4pm-7pm.  Despite the temporary lack of freedom, I wonder if this is symbolism, on the microcosmic level, of the farmers’ much greater plight – trapped by the constraints and whims of the government.  Sometimes drastic measures are called for to get your point across, eh?  And they got a response… but is this more lip service or is it a sincere gesture toward improving this labor situation?

In summation, the arena of politics was never something that appealed to me, but being in a literal arena of politics and feeling captive in it… it was enlightening, especially since I’m usually on the protestor/activist side.  I hope those of you who can vote realize the magnitude of this upcoming election – now that I’m outside of the U.S. I can see how much the whole world is scrutinizing what will go down next week.  For the first time, I feel like a fish outside of water looking in (but that would mean I’d die of suffocation, right?  You know what I mean, though).  Trying not to turn my blog into a cheesy MTV or P. Diddy slogan, I hope you all will vote, send absentee ballots, or enlist a helper monkey if your writing hand is in a cast.

Be grateful, friends – some people have to do considerably a hell of a lot more than connect arrows and lines in order to enact change.

(No embedded images on this post.  Pictures of this event can be found here.)

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~ by wannabejochen on 29/10/2008.

One Response to “The Emancipation of Chiang Mai Provincial Hall”

  1. Wow-i bet you never thought you’d be held captive on this trip! I think it enriches your experience, and I’m almost jealous! Hehe..

    I don’t know anything about those farmers or their plight (who knows, maybe they’re already grossly overcompensated with farm bills and tax credits and other goverment subsidies), but it takes some cojones to surround a government building in protest. Especially in the light of the recent violence in BKK.

    If it weren’t for people like the farmers being willing to stand up for their rights, there would be no change in this world-how boring would status quo be? Bleh.

    So to the Thai Cesar Chavez UFW leader: you go boy (or girl)!

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