We spoke to two senior Isaan activists, both graduates of the Dao Din student group. Pai from UNME of Anarchy and Nice from Dao Din about their beliefs, influences, tactics and the character of Isaan.
We previously interviewed another Dao Din activist for some background information on the group.
From the previous article:
During the past year, the protest movement in Thailand has drawn the attention of international media to the kingdom and the people’s struggle for democracy. However, the majority of this coverage has been focused on the liberal People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon) group, who are primarily middle-class people from Bangkok and central Thailand. All the while a more radical coalition of groups from Isaan, the poorest and most rural region of the country, has been growing in size and influence, drawing huge crowds of supporters into the streets.
Isaan is the poorest and least industrialised region of the country, many Isaan’ers suffer in financial procarity and rural poverty. Historically the region has been a hotbed of anti-Bangkok sentiment, notably hosting the Communist insurgency, which ran from the 1960’s into the 80’s and providing much of the muscle behind the Red Shirt movement, which brought Bangkok to a standstill on numerous occasions in the 00’s.
Can you tell us about your background? – Pai
I was born in Khon Kaen and grew up in Chaiyaphum. My dad was a human rights lawyer for rural people, because of that I visited a lot of poor rural communities and saw their problems and conditions. Then I went to study law at Khon Kaen university and joined Dao Din and became involved in activism.
Could you tell us where you’re from and what you do? – Nice
I’m a senior member of Dao Din, I’m originally from Surin province. My regular job is with the Legal Center for Human Rights in Khon Kaen. Actually the legal centre is kind of like a friend of Dao Din group, the founder was a Dao Din member as well.
We bring university students from Khon Kaen city to meet rural people to learn about how government policies affect the lives of the locals. We also help these people when they have problems, it’s like a give and take. We give legal advice and aid to them, and our students get to practice and understand law. We also lobby local governments and help organise local protests, if that’s what the people want to do.
People often say you’re the leader of Dao Din is that right? – Pai
No, I’m not at all, actually I’m still like a political freshman, because I grew up in Thailand which is a politically ignorant place.
How did you become interested in Anarchism? – Pai
Growing up I saw the injustices in society, the structural inequality that we have. When I was a student involved in Dao Din I began reading political topics, like Marxism, Socialism, Anarchism, everything.
What are the core beliefs and ideology of DaoDin? – Nice
We believe in a society of equals. We want to promote human rights, community rights, anti-hierarchy and political and economic equality. We believe in self determination, people should be choosing their own policies by themselves.
How many groups have come out of Dao Din? – Pai
*Laughing* More than I can count.
Are you inspired by any particular writers or thinkers? – Nice
There’s no one writer who inspired us, but we read a lot of different stuff. Mostly anarchist, socialist stuff… Marxist books, even I’ve read Machiavelli.
Are you inspired by any movements from outside of Thailand? – Pai
Of course, I’m inspired by many movements. Like the anti WTO movement. I like the Zapatistas. Marcos, the EZLN movement in Mexico.
Are you inspired by any movements from outside of Thailand? – Nice
For sure, we’ve been around a long time and like I said we’ve observed a lot of movements and taken bits of their tactics to develop into our own model. For example we studied the organising practices and tactics of both the Chinese Communist Revolution and the Hong Kong protests, studying and adapting for our local context.
Where do you draw your ideological inspiration from? – Nice
We’ve developed our system step by step. Developing our methods when we meet different challenges. But at our core we run a collective model. We live collectively, cook, eat, make decisions collectively, democratically. We also have regular criticism sessions which help modify our practices. We have no president or anything like that, only coordinators. We bring many different models to our organisation, but at the core it’s democratic and collective.
You founded the group UNME of Anarchy. Why is Anarchism appropriate for Isaan? – Pai
Actually I’m not like… A theory guy… But I think [anarchism] fits well for our movement… More importantly I don’t want to seize the power of the state, I believe in the power of communities.
What activities does UNME do? – Pai
Unme is organising and educating people. We also do mutual aid, like during the floods in 2019. We’ve also organised, for example, shutting down a biofuel factory that was harming the local population, and last year we’ve really established ourselves in the political protests in Bangkok and Khon Kaen. Like we made this huge long march from the countryside to Bangkok to protest, because our friends were in jail. We allied with a lot of different groups and had a huge turnout.
What kind of activism is DaoDin involved in in Isaan? – Nice
Our work is two fold. First is tackling issues of ecology and natural resources, and the second is the protest group. We hold people’s assemblies for rural people, to raise their voices and help build solidarity between disparate overlooked groups and encourage them to work together on these issues. We also organise and bring people to protest, direct action, including in Bangkok.
Can you give an example of how you handle specific cases? – Nice
So, for example, if there’s no clean water in a village, we will go to educate people about what rights they have, like the right to clean water. Then we’ll help to organise people to work together, advise them on which government representatives to target, which laws they should be cautious of and which laws they can use and often support a protest. Basically we lend our expertise, education and bodies to these communities when they need it. For example, we’ve managed to suspend mining in a village in Loei province which was very harmful for the people. We also worked to abolish plans for a Special Economic Zone in Khon Kaen.
What has been the response of local rural people when you go into a community? – Nice
There are two responses, a small minority see us as troublemakers, usually they’re the entrenched local powers, like some conservative village leaders. But that’s been happening less and less lately, since the national protest movement has grown.
Then everyone else is so welcoming to us, they open their houses to us and we live with them, we cook with them, eat, we work together.
There’s no history of Anarchism in Thailand, has that made it hard to introduce Anarchist ideas? – Pai
We use anarchism as a tactical tool, for organising, our work is to emphasise other peoples solutions, and give them tools for fighting. We educate, but in a way of bringing them together, empowering them to communicate, to think and develop their potential to fight in solidarity for changing these oppressive structures. We also have these political education trips, like camping, because in our current era, there are still many people who ignore the political situation, so we go on these camps to open up people’s ideas politically.
Why is ecology such an important focus for DaoDin? – Nice
Isaan is an area rich in resources with a very rural population and the government targets our lands for extraction, it’s extremely harmful for local people. We’ve all experienced this when growing up. Everyone in Isaan knows about these problems and how the government oppresses the Isaan people.
Why is this movement so strong in Isaan? – Nice
It’s because Isaan has historically always been oppressed by Thai regimes, since the inception of Isaan, so we sustain this radical way from our history of oppression.
It seems like Isaan activism has always been in opposition to governance in Bangkok. – Nice
The central Thai government has always tried to make Isaan culture disappear. They’re also always trying to exploit our lands. They use our resources and labour to grow their own wealth in Bangkok and central Thailand. Furthermore they’re racist towards us, they look down on us, they think we’re stupid, uneducated peasants.
Do you see Bangkok as a colonial government towards Isaan? – Nice
Yes exactly. The government in Bangkok is an imperialist one, which has colonised every other province. They just control us and take our resources. They don’t allow us to decide how to run our own lives.
How many times have you been arrested? – Pai
Too many to count
What’s your relationship with the police like? – Pai
They do their job, I do mine. They do their job to protect the security of the state.
Are you a threat to the security of the state? – Pai
*Laughing* It’s more like I threaten the security of state ideas. I think I prefer the security of the people, the security of people’s lives, but the police they’re interested in the security of the state. We want to challenge this meaning of security and for who or what.
What’s your relationship like with the police? – Nice
We have a lot of problems. We’re basically the opposite organisation of the police. There’s always antagonism. The police are always following us, taking pictures, tailing us and a lot of us have been arrested. They don’t harass us personally because they know that would be useless, but they harass our families, our mums and dads, going to our family houses and stuff.
I’ve been arrested a couple of times, for example, they arrested me for breaking the law against public gatherings after the last coup in 2015, we were doing a small protest against the coup. In jail I was so angry, like these things we were talking about, that we were protesting about, are normal things that we should be free to talk about and protest.
The communist insurgency was very active in Isaan in the 20th century… Were they an inspiration for you? Or have you learnt anything from their movement? – Pai
We have adapted many communist ideas, but you know communism and anarchism don’t always work together, communists have attacked anarchists too in the past. But we’ve learnt ways of organising from them and can use their historical legacy as a tool to listen to local people, help to organise and to analyse the opposition to fight political structures. I’m not content with just the marxist perspective, but there are a lot of important ideas there. Really I think we need a welfare state first, but modify it for our characteristics and use it as a platform to build from. We can dream, but we need to move step by step.
Do you see yourself as carrying the legacy of the insurgency? Or is it a completely different thing for you? – Pai
As a historical process every progressive group continuously follows the last, which includes us and the communists and all past movements fighting to liberate the people.
How do you see the road forward for your movement, what do you hope for 10 years from now? – Pai
I think in Thailand we’re politically underdeveloped, we need to have a democratic society first so that we can develop into something else, it’s a process but the people in our groups are very focused on these like anarchist/socialist ideas. But you know we’re still fighting for some very basic things, we don’t even have freedom to criticise the monarch.
As anarchists, we have established this new Isaan movement, this self determination project, dreaming of a future where people govern themselves and take care of each other. I don’t really think about the future so much because the future is now.
Anything else you want to say? – Pai
Right now in Thailand, many people have utopian visions. But at this moment, we don’t have the basic rights and freedoms to build that utopia on. So we need to fight to bring basic rights into Thailand. Like I said, we’ve very underdeveloped politically. Other countries have gone so far, and we’re still here in the past. So we, anarchists, Marxists and liberals are fighting together for basic freedoms, to fight for a utopian future so we can go further past those basics.
Anything else you’d like to say? – Nice
I just want to say that we’re an open organisation, you can come visit us at our house (headquarters), our doors are open in Khon Kaen, everyone is welcome. We made the house as a free space for speech, organising, to build a micro version of the society that we want to make a reality. It’s self determined, liberated free Isaan territory and everyone’s welcome!
Note: Both interviews were conducted separately and published here together.