Tyrell Haberkorn, “The Fight for Democracy in Thailand,” Dissent, October 21, 2020.
A series of fluid, leaderless protests inspired by last year’s Hong Kong protests took place across Bangkok and throughout the provinces over the weekend. They were all peaceful, all organized without the program of fiery speeches that characterized earlier protests, and were marked by care: protesters distributed raincoats, helmets, and snacks to one another. They occupied key intersections as they chanted and sang old and new Thai protest songs.
The confluence of criticism of the monarchy and the demonstration of concern and solidarity for fellow citizens portends an unprecedented democratic future in Thailand. The people are putting themselves in harm’s way for one another, rather than harming fellow Thais to defend the monarchy as they did on October 6, 1976, calling for the abrogation of democracy and a coup to protect the monarchy as they did prior to the September 19, 2006 coup, or sitting at home quietly as the army killed red-shirt protesters, who were often cast as not-quite-loyal-enough, in April and May of 2010.
Thannapat Jarernpanit, “The Free People Movements and Political Awakening in Thailand,” AsiaGlobal Online, October 22, 2020.
The current Free People demonstrations in Thailand represent the intolerance of a substantial segment of the kingdom’s population toward the military-dominated government of prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha, a retired army general. The movement developed from the Free Youth movement, which started as pro-democracy rallies by university students and then expanded to more than 15 Thai schools. Finally, the demonstrations developed into a mass movement of people protesting against what they believe is an authoritarian government and calling for real democracy in Thailand.
Eli Elinoff, “Everywhere, All at Once,” The Isaan Record, October 22, 2020.
Even though protests in the provinces have been both essential and commonplace in Thai politics for the last 50 years, provincial protests have been generally understood as sub-mobilizations of something larger taking place in Bangkok. Sometimes, as in the case of the 2010 Red Shirt mobilization, provincial demonstrations produced revelatory disruptions that emphasized both the changing regional topographies of Thai politics, but also the shifting depth of feeling in those places. The burning of provincial halls, the occupation of provincial media broadcast centers, and the disruption of flows of movement on road and rail were hallmarks of the late stages of the 2010 protests.
My point, then, is not that provincial discontent is new (though it is often ignored, downplayed, or under-analyzed). Nor is it new that this movement is a cross-class alliance. Finally, it is not that the clogging of infrastructural arteries is a new tactic. There are strong precedents for all of these things. Rather, what strikes me as different is the relatively flat hierarchy of these spaces of dissent, their inclusive character, and their temporal simultaneity.
To put it simply: Thailand’s dissent is now occurring everywhere, all at once.