With a growing number of pro-democracy protests happening across Thailand, Chiang Mai Citylife checks in with a few local youth that are behind the powerful movement.
Last Friday, September 25, 2020, marked one of the largest student protests in Chiang Mai this year. Hundreds of students and youth gathered in support of democracy. While the arrival of the COVID 19 virus slowed progress of pro-democracy protest groups temporarily, the movement has grown stronger than ever with the majority of organisers coming from Thai schools and universities.
“I’m part of the Wilar Party, we have activities that support democracy and homeless cats,” says 21 year old CMU student organiser Thanatorn Vitayabenjang. CityLife interviewed Thanatorn backstage during the large student protest located at Three Kings Monument this past Friday evening. Thanatorn is tall and sports Buddy Holly-style glasses, a beanie and a floral-patterned face mask. His traditional Lanna wear had a red ribbon pinned to the sleeve.
“We also have many staff members that are not from the Wilar Party, many people are volunteers,” he said. Friday’s rally was extremely organised with plenty of youth staff on hand. The event showcased a large stage placed in front of the monument along with protest accessory tables and a press sign-in table. Pizza Boxes with plaque logos affixed atop that contained ‘protest-pizza’ was available for sale, as well.
Police remained closeby and watchful. “I’m not scared because I think there are many people that suffer everyday in thailand. So, that’s why we need to liberate ourselves from the dictatorship government,” said Thanatorn about the surrounding authorities. Armed officers were vigilant and mostly peaceful throughout the evening with many of them watching from behind the sizable crowd. The night wasn’t without conflict, however: At one point a yellow shirted pro-royalist supporter was asked to move across the street because of the disarray he was causing. He was shuffled across the street without much struggle.
Hundreds of supporters packed in close to the stage with many of them being high school school aged students. Several of the supporters were young girls who placed duct tape over their embroidered names on their school uniforms.
One anonymous high school student said, “I’m not scared because there’s something that is bigger than fear. We all want to see a future where this country belongs to the people. We all want to see a country that is truly a democratic state,” the student continued, “ If we don’t fight now, we will be living like a slave for our whole life. It’s not just about the new generation but it’s about people of every age and every generation. If you want to see a better country then you have to fight now! It’s now or never. It’s not only the new generation that should go out and fight but it’s everyone’s duty in our society. If we don’t take care of it we will still live in this terrible place and it’s going to get worse for sure.”
The protest ran from about 4pm until just after dark. Musicians and speakers took turns sharing the stage under the monument’s shadow. At around 6pm organisers asked supporters to stand up and gather a few metres away from the stage where it was revealed that within a yellow barrier that was placed amongst the crowd there layed a large brick. Media and the crowd circled the large brick as organisers began their demonstration. The Wilar Party members displayed a large yellow foam ‘plaque’ and placed it on top of the brick.
The mock ‘plaque’ was a direct response to a plaque that was placed at Sanam Luang earlier this month (and ultimately taken by an unknown party). Organisers symbolically placed a new plaque on the ground without damaging the grounds of The Three Kings Monument.
“We wanted to place a sign of democracy so we used a big coin plaque at tonight’s protest,” said Thanatorn, “The meaning of this plaque is from the older big coin that was placed in 1932 by Khana Ratsadon.” Khana Ratsadon of the People’s Party was a group of officers, which carried out the 1932 revolution. This revolution changed Thailand’s absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
Once the coin was placed, a salute was given and the music and speeches continued. Later in the evening, the student crowd erupted when Future Forward Party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich, nicknamed Chor, appeared from the back of the standing crowd. She took questions and engaged students in thoughtful conversation about democracy and student issues.
As the eventful night came to end Thanatorn said, “I think it was nice to see many youth at this protest tonight. There’s a good opportunity to increase allies of the democracy fronts in Thailand.” He said, “The next event is not organised by The Wilar Party but instead it will be organized by the Community of MorChor. (MorChor is another local student led pro-democracy group.) So, the next protest event will be held on October 1st at Chiang Mai University.”
While multiple student-led pro-democracy groups exist throughout Thailand, these groups are uniting and sharing protest dates in an attempt to maintain consistency. Last Friday evening’s successful protest saw local turnout numbers in the hundreds. Protesting, a plaque and of course, pizza; A true testament to the unification and power of Thai youth today.
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The Wilar Party