In December 2008 the UDD leader Natthawut Saikua made a beautiful speech to the crowd of redshirts in front of parliament. Invoking powerfully elemental imagery, this speech (excerpt translated below) portrays the redshirts in the figurative form of the sons and daughters of the land who know full well that a vast distance separates them from the sky. ‘We only have to look down to realise that we are worth no more than a handful of earth.’ We, the redshirts, are a people denied respect and justice, a people whose collective voice, rising from the land to the sky, calls for the acknowledgement that ‘we too have heart and soul.’
The text and video clip of this speech have since been widely circulating among the network of blogs and websites that participate in the redshirts’ movement. They’ve also appeared on Wikiquote as well as on the webboards of the odd independent media. But elsewhere it’s as if the most powerful Thai political speech in recent years has never happened. The current place of this speech, subsequently entitled ‘from the land to the sky,’ is a curious one. It’s regarded as a speech of historic importance among those who have, so to speak, crossed into the barricades. It doesn’t appear to be widely known among the ‘newly red’: those who may subscribe in conceptual terms to the call for equality, and may therefore sympathise with the crowd from this distance. (But they/I can’t quite see themselves/myself reflected in the provincial-machismo of some of the regulars on the redshirts’ stage.) Those who continue to maintain that all this is only about Thaksin wouldn’t have been irritated by this speech – it wasn’t televised on their channels.A historic speech that wasn’t televised, Natthawut’s trumping of the rambling, robotic convention of Thai political speechmaking deserves much wider, and continuing, circulation. It’s rich food for thought. Why was it this particular speech, and not others, that struck a powerful chord among the UDD supporters? What does the texture of the speech and its reception say about the basis of people’s identification with the redshirts’ movement? The allegorical structure of ‘from the earth to the sky’ is a challenge to think through too. Censorship and the decline of aura both account for the rise of the allegorical form. It’s a type of utterance that works on multiple levels, so won’t be informative enough for the rationalist; but what it always has to have is the trust that the audience will decipher a message that parallels the literal one. How the audience shifts from producing that message into sustaining effective political action is another question, but the quality of Natthawut’s speech tells you that something has changed. There’ll be no more marching into action having made a play of absorbing the cold condescension of sagely wisdom.
From the earth to the sky
..We’re denied many things. We’re denied justice; respect in the way governmental bodies treat us; accurate and direct reporting about us in the media. We’re denied the chance to openly declare our fight – to openly and directly declare, with our clarity and sincerity, what it is that we are fighting for.
What’s most important for us all to remember, brothers and sisters, is that we are the salt of the earth. We are the people with no privileges.
We were born on the land. We grew up on the land. Each step that we take is on this same land. We stand, with our two feet planted here, so far away from the sky.
Tilting our heads fully upwards, we gaze at the sky, and we realise how far away that sky is.
Standing on this land, we only have to look down to realise that we are worth no more than a handful of earth.
But I believe in the power of the redshirts. I believe our number is growing day-by-day, minute-by-minute. Even though we stand on this land, and we speak out from our place among the earth, our voice will rise to the sky. Of this I have no doubt.
The voice we’re making now – our cries and shouts – is the voice of people who are worth only a handful of earth. But it is the voice of the people who were born and grew up on this land, and it will rise to the level of the sky.
We, the redshirts, want to say to the land and sky that we too have heart and soul. We, the redshirts, want to remind the land and sky that we too are the Thai people. We, the redshirts, want to ask the land and sky whether we have been condemned to seek, by ourselves, a rightful place to plant our feet here..