Radical Grandma Collective: Where is the Movement Now?

Alvarez Spark Innovation Award recipient, the Radical Grandma Collective, used their funding to support a nonprofit online store selling scarves woven by women in the small village of Na Nong Bong, Thailand. Profits support the villagers’ activist efforts against a goldmine that has polluted area drinking water and farmland with cyanide. 

By Zoe Swartz

One of the biggest challenges of running an international non profit is staying in touch with the community that we work with. We are fortunate to have one team member still based in Northeast Thailand but it is a difficult feat to get the US RadGram team and the Thai community leaders all together. This past summer, with financial support from Alvarez-Spark Innovation award, I was able to return to Thailand to focus on my work with RadGram for almost a month and most importantly, reconnect with the Radical Grandmas themselves.

The “Rad Grams”  have been fighting for environmental justice for over ten years. While the community has relentlessly defended the land, stood up for human rights, and built an activist movement, their strategies and priorities have adapted throughout the years in response to both hard won victories and the dynamic challenges they face. As allies trusted with telling the story of the movement, it is important for us to work through distance and language barriers to stay up to date on the current priorities and needs of the mining resistance movement in Na Nong Bong. During my time in Thailand, I was able to work with other members of the RadGram team and local leaders to facilitate a group check in about the movement’s goals and the support role that RadGram can play.

From this meeting and with the help of Phattraporn Kaengjumpa and Ranong Kongsaen, two leaders of People Who Love Their Hometown (the community’s  mining resistance organization), we put together answers to some frequently asked questions about the cause that RadGram supports. We have shared this deliverable on our website and with our supporters to better communicate how RadGram supports a community-based environmental justice movement.


What is the difference between Radical Grandma Collective and People Who Love Their Hometown?

People Who Love Their Home Town, or Kon Rak Ban Keud (KRBK), is an organization founded by Na Nong Bong villagers to demand justice for harm caused by the gold mine that was built near their  community. KRBK works to organize villagers, network with other mining-affected communities and organizations, as well as fight for their community’s rights in court.

The Radical Grandma Collective is an international social enterprise that sells scarves and other goods produced by the  villagers’ weaving group. The weaving group was founded in order to fundraise for KRBK and it is led by Ranong (Mae Rote), who is also one of KRBK’s most  prominent organizers. Members of the weaving group donate 50 baht (approximately $1.50) of their earnings from each scarf to KRBK. Additionally, the Radical Grandma Collective donates 35% of the proceeds from the international sales of their weaving products directly to KRBK.


Besides donating to KRBK, how do the “radical grandmas” advance environmental justice? ?

Ranong knows a thing or two about movement building. As a devoted grandmother, community member, and activist-organizer, Ranong has become locally (and even nationally) renowned for her mining-resistance work over the past decade. While she herself is often seen holding a megaphone on the picket line, she also recognizes that not everyone is able to play such a public role. Ranong knew that many of her friends had the desire and potential to support the movement, but needed a different access point. Weaving is an art form that has been passed down  for generations in Na Nong Bong and is an activity that many of the grandmas love doing. Ranong applied her community organizing skills to create a weaving group with the dual mission of providing income to women in the village and supporting KRBK. Through the weaving group, many grandmas have been able to play a more active role in the community’s fight, and as a result, the community is more united. International sales of the grandmas’ woven goods also brings awareness to the conflict in Na Nong Bong and provides  friends of the community with a direct way to act in solidarity with the villagers.


What is the current status of the gold mine?

The gold mine hasn’t been active since the company’s license to use the land expired in 2013, but  the company still aims to build additional mines in the area. Through persistent protest at local government offices, villagers have been able to prevent Tungkum Lmt. (TKL) from renewing the license and legally accessing minerals. These protests have been successful, but caused villagers (including some of the grandmas) to be sued by the local government for violating restrictions on public assembly.

While the mine has been out of operation for five years, the community’s struggle has continued. Although TKL’s license expired in 2013, the company was determined to remove previously harvested ore from the mining site. Villagers didn’t trust that the company would respect the law and stay away, so they built several blockades on the road to the mine in 2013-2014. Shortly after this act of protest, villagers were violently attacked by a mob of men in masks and held hostage while trucks removed the ore from the mine in May 2014. To this day, no one has been found legally responsible for the attack.

There is also great potential for more mineral excavation in the area and the company is eager to expand its activity so KRBK must stay vigilant to prevent the construction of future mines. Under the military government, new mining legislation has been introduced that makes the process for obtaining mining licenses much easier and quicker, including eliminating the obligation for companies to hold public hearings in the communities that are affected by mining projects.


What are the current priorities of KRBK and the mining resistance movement?

Although the mine is not currently in operation, villagers have not received reparations for the severe damage caused by mining pollution. In 2012, the mine’s tailing pond broke and leached toxic cyanide into the villagers’ fields and streams. Villagers became sick and those who owned land close to the mine could no longer farm. Since then, the community has switched to buying water instead of drinking from local sources. Currently, KRBK is focused on environmental restoration so that the land can sustain generations to come. For the past 6 months, KRBK has been researching the comprehensive economic costs of the damages incurred by the  community and is currently negotiating with the government to determine how they can collectively restore the environment.


What are some of the biggest challenges that KRBK is facing? How do donations help?

It may seem astounding, but the mining company is actually suing the villagers for protesting on the grounds of “defamation” in over 20 cases. Villagers spend about 10,000 THB (a little over $300) per month traveling to court, paying legal fees, and covering room and board for themselves and their lawyers. In total they have spent over 1 million THB (over $30,000) defending themselves in court. The company has never won a case against the villagers, however the wasted money, time, and stress makes it difficult for the community to stay organized. These legal battles are also a tactic that the mining company uses to scare villagers from protesting. Members of group, including some of the Radical Grandmas, are currently on probation and are not supposed to protest, although that hasn’t stopped them yet!

As of September 2018, Radical Grandma Collective will donate 35% of all proceeds from its sales to KRBK to help offset this financial burden. Your purchases and donations support community leaders through these grueling legal battles and contribute  funds for environmental restoration.