The Red Shirt activist of Ratchaprasong red ribbon fame, Sombat Boonngam-anong talks about peaceful protests, what brought him to politics and how he envisions a revolution to end all revolutions.

My parents came from Southern China and didn’t have higher education. My dad only finished fourth grade while my mom didn’t go to school at all. My uncle, who studied at Thammasat University, is the highest educated person in my family. He taught me about politics and economics.

My uncle spoke to us on 13 October 1973. He predicted the military crackdown on the students.

I had believed that the students were the bad guys after watching the 1976 crackdown on TV. They said the students were communists and deserved to be suppressed. But my uncle would talk to me about the system, about what was really going on.

I was expelled from high school after I led a protest against the principal for student rights. At that time students had lots of problems with expensive, heavy, new school bags and corruption related to school fees.

I had a theory that if I wasn’t in school, I had to be rich. I opened a video rental business but it didn’t go well so I stopped and mostly spent my time at snooker clubs and gallivanting.

My turning point was when I joined Makhampom, an NGO group, as a volunteer doing stage plays for child development.

It killed my old identity and created a new me. I was in a whole new world. Acting is a journey of the mind. But they also took me to places like Thung Ku La Rong Hai, the driest place in Thailand, and slums in Bangkok which were near my house like Klong Toei. I had never been there before. When I saw these places, I realized that all my life I had been sheltered.

I spoke to the leader of the people fighting the expropriation of the slum dwellers. I asked him why they were asking for rights over other people’s land. He said he used to be a soldier at the border to protect the country. One day, his pregnant wife wrote him a letter about them being kicked out of their home. It made him think, “Whose house am I protecting here?” This is a problem of rights over rights.

When there was coup in 1991, I was so angry. I felt that it wasn’t fair. Coups are so backward. I performed a mime on the streets around Bangkok to criticize the coup and made thousands of anti-coup postcards to ask the government to call off martial law.

I quit Makhampom and established the Kra Jok Ngao group which did drama for kids, but I felt it didn’t solve real problems either.

I decided to focus my energies on bringing practical solutions to people’s problems. I started Kru Ban Nok in Chiang Rai, teaching children and fighting for the rights of tribal people. We later brought the project to Bangkok to share our experiences here.

I was really pissed off about the coup in 2006. That night I was online talking with people in the “19 Sep Against the Coup” group. The consequences were the same as in 1991. We had the May crackdown and many lives were lost.

I nearly joined the PAD at the beginning but later decided to sit on the sidelines after Sonthi Limthongkul asked the military to come out. That’s not what I wanted.

It’s really bullshit to think of Thailand as an agricultural society. It’s this romantic idea that city people hold on to. We’re now in the era of agro-industry and information. The problem is that Thai farmers can produce only half a ton of rice per rai while China makes one ton and Japan two.

People love Thaksin because what he offered was tangible. The 30-baht-healthcare project was a response to a very dramatic situation. Children would sell their farmland to pay for their parent’s hospital bills. That’s what happened to poor people like the security guard next to my office.

I believe this will be the last fight. All the revolutions in Thailand are about sharing the power and status. The 1932 revolution was for the military, 1973 and 1976 were for intellectuals, 1992 was for the middle class. This time, it will be for ordinary people.

The Red Sunday movement is about fighting without aggression. It’s about using my NGO skills to put this movement on the right path. I’m trying to make people come together and get our message across without violence or making people panic.

The important thing in this conflict is to maintain our humanity. War destroys humanity. Each side tries to destroy the other’s humanity so that it can destroy human beings.

I don’t understand why people accept the [May] killings but don’t accept what the Red Shirts want—the new election.

I think Bangkok is a gluttonous city. It engulfs everything. If you want anything, you have to be here.

I believe we can write the play of our life. Well, at least half of it.

Life isn’t just about living. It’s also about finding what you want to live for. Once you find it, serve that purpose for the rest of your life.

I want everyone to accept that we’re all equal. This will make Thailand better.


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