Power to the youth.
Don’t let her age fool you. At 16, Benjamaporn “Ploy” Nivas is already a leader of the “Bad Student” (นักเรียนเลว) political group, standing up for sweeping change to Thailand’s beleaguered education system. She gives her take on the protests, the political differences between young and old, and how this will all end.
What do you think about the protest movement right now?
Thai citizens have been living with flawed democracy, not only for the six years of the current regime, but for decades and decades, ever since my grandparents’ generation. I think what’s going on right now brings fresh hope to Thai society.
What are the problems that have fueled the need for you to come out and protest?
Well, for students like me, it’s mainly about how outdated and flawed our education system is. Some of the rules don’t really make any sense at all.
In your opinion, what does an ideal or effective form of politics look like?
The political system that I want to see would be one that is created by the people and for the people. Every citizen should have the freedom to vote for officials who create and implement rules that better the lives of citizens instead of forming their own groups of cronies to rake in the benefits [for themselves].
Have you been out to the protests? If so, what has the experience been like for you?
I’ve been joining the protests regularly since it all began. I lead some of the groups, and I also join other ones, too. Personally, I think [joining the protests] has been a fun experience for me. There are so many people who have come out to protest, so I get to meet a lot of new and different people. On the other hand, I have to watch out for my safety, because there’s always going to be a chance I get harassed, or even kidnapped—as one the [Bad Student] leaders, I’ve given a lot of speeches.
How did your parents react when they saw you out protesting, or when you had people cutting your hair to make a statement about school haircut rules?
They were really surprised. They didn’t want me to go out and do these things, mainly for my own safety, of course. But as I kept going out to protest, they grew tired of warning me, so they just solved the problem by going to the protests with me.
What are your thoughts on the gap between your generation and your parents’?
Well, we have to understand the perspectives of our parents, first and foremost. We have to understand the reasons that make them think and act the way they do. Is it because they grew up with an authoritarian government? Is it because the Thai education system has utterly failed them? Is it because of their environment, like their friends and families?
It’s really difficult to change their outlook, for them to think like us and be on our side, since their beliefs have been totally ingrained in them. However, I believe that deep down, people can change when they want to, and so, someday, they might side with us. Who knows? If that day doesn’t come… if they still maintain their stances, we have to respect their opinions and just leave it there. We live now for the future, but they’re living for right now.
How do you think the situation will end?
I honestly don’t know. I guess, maybe all the young protesters will get abducted [laughs]. Even if we don’t achieve our aims now, there will always be an outcry from the public if the government or those wielding power don’t change and adapt to the citizens’ demands. Times and eras change, and different players will always come in, but history repeats itself. No matter how long it’ll take, another 10, 20, 30 years, the citizens shall always prevail.