I have been a small cog in what I believe to be a massively important wheel this month and it has been enlightening, empowering and extremely exciting. If you follow local affairs (or our web site and social media) you will know that there has been a huge furore recently over the proposed development of a piece of land owned by the Treasury Department. You can read the details in my feature article this month, but as this is my soapbox, I thought I would wax pontification on my experiences over the past few weeks.
I have tried to lead a few campaigns over the years, fundraising for various causes, petitions for immigration reform, creating awareness over the proliferation of signage in the city, appeals for restructuring of public transportation, etc. Most of these efforts have been ineffective at worst and helped raise the level of awareness at best. I have a voice, but it’s not loud enough. I have reach, but it’s too short. I have suggestions, but lack the ears to hear them. I have weight, but no gravitas. It has been frustrating, and I have consoled myself in the knowledge that I have done my best, that my job is to shine a spotlight on what I feel is important, put the information out there in a way which is of interest, and hope that someone out there will take on the mantle and use their particular skillsets to further each cause.
I now know that I didn’t do my best, not by a long shot.
One thing I fail in as a Thai person is my inability to use connections. I have always felt very awkward about obligation, even when garnering favours, not for myself, but for issues I believe to be important. This reticence to ask for favours has done me none, and has been a disservice towards my numerous efforts.
Early in August, I was called upon by my old school, Regina Coeli, to lend whatever help I could towards a fight to end a government development project next to my old alma mater. I was told that over 900 units of inexpensive housing were to be built for government officials on this piece of land belonging to the Treasure Department and that it would cause endless congestion to the area surrounding my school.
I joined the group to learn more and was soon swept up in righteous indignation over this opaque government development which would see an unspecified amount of money changing hands between a government department and a private business, resulting in a massive development which would affect thousands of people, as well as the environment.
It took two weeks following our objections, for the Treasury Department to make the announcement that it was cancelling its project, a Herculean feat when seen in context of one of the largest Treasury Department’s cluster of projects nation-wide in the past few years.
My staff and I designed vinyls (yes, those signs I keep protesting against), cartoons and stickers. We helped craft press releases and we contributed in ways we could. Others set up and ran social media campaigns, while those who could, wheeled and dealt behind the scenes, making sure that our messages reached the right people. We brought in religious leaders and their flocks, we pulled in schools and their students, parents and alumni. We convinced academics and researchers to work to back up our claim that the development of this land would not only be a short-sighted gain, but a terrible squandering of a great environmental asset. We appealed to conservation groups, cycling clubs, tree planters, historians, communities and incredibly they all joined us and spoke out.
So often we tell ourselves that we are impotent in face of authority; that one amongst so many can surely not affect change.
We all have our pet causes we struggle for, even in teeny tiny little ways, but what I saw this month is that many of our causes in fact share a common core. In this one case, we had groups wanting to promote cycling, protect rare bird species, lessen traffic, demand government accountability, preserve culture, unite religious communities and those who simply wished to provide a healthy environment to future generations, all that was required to gain their collective support was an emotional connection and an extraordinary outreach. From whispers in the Prime Minister’s ears to spreading online petitions, each person came together to contribute what they could, realising that one mission’s success only provides impetuous and support for others.
A cause which had no direct impact on the city as a whole, became our city’s cause celebre. And frankly, the secret was that we weren’t shy to ask for help. When one gave, others followed.
Yes, it has been, as mentioned, enlightening, empowering and exciting.
Citylife this month:
Apart from the cover feature story, I wrote a story about Chiang Mai’s first Russian Orthodox Church, quite an extraordinary addition to our already multi-faceted city. I was also invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to visit Satun and Malaysia’s Langkawi, so there is a short story there too. Our new intern Sanhathai Sakya, a Pokémon trainer — it’s a thing, I looked it up — talks about the best places in Chiang Mai to go and hunt Pokémon and English intern Emily Crosby attempts to understand Thailand’s obsession with fortune telling. Our Thai CityNow! editor, Chalida Supasaen also writes a story about a visit she made to an odd robot maker in town.