The two basic groups in opposition are the “Red Shirts” and the “Yellow Shirts.” The details of their differences are well documented. But as in Iraq, the United States, Germany, and many other places, the “Democrats” and “Republicans” (or whatever) are not as sharply defined in micro as they are from a distance. Some of my friends in the United States still group “liberal” with “democrat,” for instance. None of my friends who link liberal with democrat were raised in the true South. You’d be surprised just how conservative a lot of Southern democrats are, and maybe equally surprised at how liberal many Republicans actually are. The anti-gun crowd is a fine example: many people seem to assume the anti-gun crowd are all Democrats, but I can assure you that there are plenty of democrats with impressive gun lockers.
Iraq was equally confusing and nuanced. Navigating these waters is like trying to navigate an old, winding river with mysterious channels leading everywhere.
Here in Thailand, one Thai family that I know very well is divided with two Yellow Shirts and three Red Shirts. They come from two generations. The parents are both university educated and have traveled to various countries abroad. The father is a Yellow Shirt and the mother is a Red Shirt. Of the three kids, all have master’s degrees and frequently travel abroad, and one is a Yellow shirt while two are Red Shirts. Like many American families, they get along harmoniously until politics comes up, and then they argue, and finally all laugh and agree to stop talking politics. I laugh and say that’s just like America.
And so now, I write these unedited words from the epicenter of an unfolding protest in Chiang Mai. There are reports of more serious protests in Bangkok and elsewhere, but here, down by Tae Pae Gate, I have been walking around making photos, and now am watching the protest from a Starbucks. Some protesters are literally just outside the window, but they aren’t doing much. A man is blaring from about a hundred yards away with a microphone but few people–maybe 50–seem to be paying attention. There are red tents with Coca-Cola emblazoned, and small food vendors who have moved in.
The police are mostly lounging around. The Red Shirts, who are protesting, have so far been friendly to me just like Thais normally tend to be. As I walked around earlier, the Monks at nearby temples were going about their day like nothing is going on. Life seems normal except that a few streets are closed and a lot of people are wearing red and that man keeps talking into the megaphone.
As of 4PM on Friday in Chiang Mai, all is fine and there are no issues. The protest might have gathered a few hundred people so far. Certainly not thousands. I see no signs of violence. The few police who are here are not doing much.
There does seem to be real chance, however, that the problems could eventually spin out of control in Thailand. The tension becomes slightly more obvious each time I pass through.