6 October to mark new generation of student activists

Students from Chulalongkorn University have organised an event commemorating 6 October, viewing the 40th anniversary of the massacre as also inaugurating a new generation of student activists.

According to Netiwit Choltiphatphaisal, a student spearheading the commemoration, this is the first year Chulalongkorn has hosted ‘a fully-fledged event’ to remember the massacre of over a hundred pro-democracy students and bystanders at Thammasat University in 1976 by military and paramilitary forces.

On one level then, the commemoration resists the general erasure of 6 October from Thai history promoted by the junta and in many history classes. “This history doesn’t have any pages in the history of Chulalongkorn,” said the student activist, “This is a history that was hidden, that student’s don’t know.”

However, the stale mobilisation strategies of previous student activists may be also partially responsible for the relatively muted (and in some years, non-existent) student commemorations of 6 October over the past decade. In the eyes of Netiwit, preceding generations of student activists did not innovate events appealing enough to persuade other students, and the general public, to learn about 6 October, to remember and to reflect upon the events’ significance.

“When 6 October was celebrated five years ago, I participated [in organising commemorative events]. [The events] were interesting, they had drama and there were many people. But what was interesting at that time has now become boring.  Activism right now in Thailand is quite boring. It’s just about talk.”

Netiwit Choltiphatphaisal (Photo from Netiwit's Facebook account)

The commemoration is now being organised by a network of students calling themselves ‘The New Pink’ (the university’s colour), which is membered primarily by freshmen. This new generation of student activists aims to be more creative and provocative than its predecessors.

“I have repeated the old ways, the old approach many times. It became clear to me that I had to change,” Netiwit reflected. “I feel quite optimistic. I have participated in this movement for five years so I know many young students. I think they want to change. I think they want to speak in their own way.”

Rather than through a typical talk-based lecture or panel, Netiwit hopes participants in this year’s commemoration at Chulalongkorn will learn about 6 October through novel and interactive events involving play, drama, parody and active questioning.

The day will involve a series of games, and an exhibition exploring the relationship between 6 October and Chulalongkorn University. For Netiwit, the history of his university and the Thammasat University massacre are entwined: many of the students massacred were Chulalongkorn students present in solidarity, just as many current teachers at Chulalongkong were Thammsat students during the 1970s.

The day will finish with a talk on the theme of youth politics delivered by Joshua Wong, a leading student activist from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“We have many games to play,” Netiwit mused, “I think young students want to play games but older activists think conservatively. We have to find new ways to communicate with young people.”

In Netiwit’s eyes, the 40th anniversary of 6 October will symbolise not only remembrance, but the birth of a new generation of student activists. He hopes that, “6 October may help young people to know each other, to learn about the speakers and maybe in the future they can form some group at Chulalongkorn.”  

To promote a strong activist generation, The New Pink has also been employing new fundraising strategies designed to promote among its members feelings of personal ownership over its campaigns.

“Funding is quite difficult to fund. But now we are fundraising by selling t-shirts. I think this is quite special. Most events now by activists do not come from fundraising, but from some foundation who gave them the money … By fundraising, people will become proud of themselves and feel a part of this movement. Some students are afraid to come to events but now they can help us by buying a t-shirt and can still feel one with the movement.”

Reflecting The New Pink’s focus on moving forward, speakers at the Chulalongkorn celebration will be current youths, rather than ex-students from the 6 October generation.

“We will talk about the future,” said Netiwit firmly. “We won’t just talk about the past or the present. We will talk about the future.”

The New Pink’s commemoration of the massacre will take place from 2pm on 6 October, on Floor 13, Building 3 of Chulalongkorn’s political science department. Further information can be found at: www.facebook.com/6OctCU/

A painting by Thanit Phonglang called 'the chair for you' inspired by Neal Ulevich's photo of the 6 October 1976 massacre (Photo from Artistdaily)