Large organisations of farming and fishing communities have been protesting against the Pak Moon Dam in northern Thailand for years, but their experiences over the past week show that getting one's voice heard is a process fraught with peril. A protest camp set up across the road from Government House in Bangkok was raided by thugs in the early hours of December 5. Soon after, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra showed his populist touch by crossing the road to meet the protesters, assure them of his focus on their complaints, and to hand out ice creams. Such attention from the man at the top has encouraged, even prompted hope among some of those who have lost livelihoods and land to the dam. But the interplay between protesters and politicians has caused others to fret that the basic point in any movement towards civil society has been lost again - that people must be directly involved in any decision-making about projects and government policies which affect them. The transition from harassment to ice creams suggests instead that communities must still rely on beneficence from on high, commentators lament. Promises of special attention have been given many times before, with studies commissioned to evaluate the potential side effects of such major projects. Take the case of the blasting of rapids along the Mekong River, intended to make it navigable from Yunnan province in China to the southern delta in Vietnam. The downstream countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam each have real concerns about the ramifications. But governments are shy of knocking back advances from the north. A rare demonstration outside Bangkok's Chinese Embassy on Thursday highlights where protesters think some of the blame should lie. But cute pictures, such as those of a little girl wearing a headscarf during a protest in front of the embassy, are unlikely to sway the decision-makers.