They’ve camped out, bathed and done their laundry along the same stretch of road for 18 straight days. They are quick to apologize for making any inconvenience and say they don’t want to be here.
But what makes members of a loose-knit coalition of Thailand’s rural poor endure this “necessary inconvenience” is a lack of any other option to make their demands heard, whether to reclaim lost land or get relief from recent floods.
Asked today how long hundreds of poor Thais from across the kingdom, with children and families in tow, plan to remain encamped not far from the Government House, an Assembly of the Poor organizer said that was up to the government, and what its representatives would say Tuesday.
“How long we stay here depends on how well the meeting goes this afternoon,” Arrisara Kwanwian told Coconuts Bangkok, adding the assembly does not plan to leave until their demands, some going back decades, have been taken seriously.
As of 5pm today, the meeting is still happening and Arrisara said no decisions or conclusions have been reached.
Among them today was 74-year-old Seurt Tanmark, who was sitting on the sidewalk along Ratchadamnoen Nok Road in Bangok’s Dusit district among tents erected by different tribes of travelers who came to the capital from a number of provinces.
“We’ve been fighting over this issue for over 10 years. … I’m not leaving Bangkok until the problem is resolved,” he said.
Arrisara said today marked their fourth round of meetings with government officials since their sleep-in began Oct. 5.
Arrisara said the meetings, so far, have been disappointing.
“They’ve traveled so far hoping to talk to the ministers of various departments themselves. But instead, these ministers say they’re too busy and send lower-tier representatives that don’t have any real power or authority to make any decisions,” she said. “So the people have been pretty disappointed, but they are not disheartened or any less determined.”
Among the top issues for the group’s members include long-running demands for compensation after they were displaced decades ago by several dam projects that were hastily built, in some cases without following legal process. They include infrastructure like the Pak Mun, Hua Na, and Tasae Dam. Their construction led to such fierce opposition in the affected communities that Thailand has been unable to build further dams since then.
Chaluay Janchuang is in Bangkok from the southern province of Chumphon to oppose the construction of a reservoir in the Tha Sae district.
She’s been camped out on the canal-side road since Oct. 5. She says the government has sought to build the project since 1995 but could not make any progress due to pushback from local communities. Even so, she says the government tries to restart construction every year.
“The dam will force over 700 households to relocate. That’s thousands and thousands of people,” she said. “It’s not like this dam will improve anything. It won’t be helpful for the weather, to help with floods or droughts – it will do nothing to prevent or support people during natural disasters.”
She blames financial interests and investors for pushing for the dam’s construction.
“It’s not like we want to be here, we’ve gathered in the streets because our way of life has been destroyed by the state’s policies,” another woman from Si Sa Ket province cut in without giving her name.
Meanwhile, Seurt, the 74 year old from Trang province who’s been camping at the site since Oct. 5, is contesting a new national park law that will see the removal of his house.
“I’ve been sleeping, eating and showering here from the portable bathroom stalls that’s been arranged for us,” he told Coconuts Bangkok, adding that he has no plans of returning home.
“I’m already here. I want to see this thing through,” he added.
Check our live reporting from the scene Tuesday and hear directly from the people involved: