The pictures were Tweeted all over the world: small groups of anti-coup protestors sitting down at the BTS Chong Nonsi skywalk on May 29, silently reading books like George Orwell’s 1984. BK meets up with two of the protestors, Kasama and Pimsiri, who tell us why they chose reading as a form of resistance.
How did you come up with the idea?
Kasama: I thought we should do something to show our standpoint against the military coup, but it should be in a nonviolent way. We were inspired by the silent reading protests in Turkey after weeks of violent clashes between protesters and police. The Turkish protesters showed there was a path of resistance that didn’t require violence.
Kasama: In Orwell’s 1984 everything is controlled by Big Brother and his party. They watch over you at all times, there’s no freedom of speech, no freedom of expression or anything—the authority even forces you to believe that 2+2=5. And that’s now happening here, in real life, in Thailand. The book helps illustrate the severity of this political situation. Actually, you can read anything you want; the point is that through a non-provocative act we can show our resistance to dictatorship.
Why do you think this form of protest will work?
Kasama: This a nonviolent option for those who want a way to express themselves. Of course, we expect some people to disagree with this, but at the least, this symbolic protest should raise some questions in their mind. Personally, I think reading is vital. When you read, it makes you think and question things. Once you ask questions, finally you’ll get the answer.
How do you spread the word to gather together?
Pimsiri: By word of mouth, because sharing the details through social media is a bit risky. Things can spread widely in just a few minutes. This is just the beginning, though; if we’d got a massive turn-out the first time, it might have threatened our safety. We didn’t need lots of people to achieve our first step, anyway. That happened when the press published our protest and shared it to social network.
Are you afraid of getting in trouble?
Pimsiri: Sure, we don’t want to get in trouble. But if nobody takes action, nothing will change. We should stand up for our rights, shouldn’t we? So many things don’t make sense anymore in this country; for example, that foreigner getting arrested for holding a T-shirt with “Peace Please” on it at Victory Monument. So, everyone needs to be careful about what they do now. Anyway, we’re only reading books.
How do you feel about people judging you negatively?
Pimsiri: It would be easier if people would just accept that people have different opinions. We were all born in different parts of the country, with different surroundings, different families, so why don’t we understand diversity? I’m not saying that my attitude’s always right or even that democracy is necessarily the best form of government. But if you know what the defects of the system are, why don’t we try to solve the problem with our own hands? Don’t let other people control you. It’s about basic human rights.