Raiding book publishers, threatening selfie takers, banning Telegram — the Thai government’s panicked response to peaceful protests around Bangkok has been unrelenting. But none of that seemed to touch this weekend’s protests at Victory Monument and other sites throughout the capital, where many young protesters clad in colorful ponchos got their first taste of civil disobedience, Thai-style.
With more than 50 protest leaders arrested, including “Mike Rayong”, who was taken by undercover police only the day before the Oct. 16 Victory Monument gathering, there were no trucks filled with sound equipment or grand speeches during the day. The protesters spent the rainy daylight hours in thrall to chants and songs.
In the east end of Ratchawithi, Thailand’s frontline protesters readied carefully. Boxes of cheap hard hats still coated in disposable plastic were handed out among the young people who took lessons from a loudspeaker at the front on how to deal with a rush from riot cops.
“Prayut get out!” shouted a student from Chulalongkorn University, where, just two nights earlier, the harried protesters were routed by water cannons and riot cops.
Not to be caught off-guard again, the protesters took a cue from their Hong Kong counterparts, now stuck under a National Security Law that will forever mar any semblance of freedom in the Autonomous Region. Assembly lines took bottles of water and gear further into the protest area as protests grew elsewhere around the city at the Asoke intersection an in Bang Na.
Across the country in Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen protesters stood in solidarity with their political kin in Bangkok.
Without being ordered to close down, as has happened Thursday, businesses buzzed to life. Protest-goers took breaks to try some of the nearby Hainanese chicken and boba tea. Some people even ordered food deliveries to the frontline.
“No, I don’t care,” said one shop worker. “Many people are good.”
Instead of riot police threatening violence, the frontline of the Victory Monument protest was filled with selfie-taking motorcycle-taxi drivers waiting for an easy fare and flashing the three-finger salute.
Enthused by the reaction on social media, protesters took pride in clearing a space for ambulances making their way through the crowds. Once they would pass through, the crowd would cheer and clap.
As the sun set, speaker equipment was brought in and the protesters took their seats on the ground, confident that they had won the evening at Victory Monument.
The Free People Movement declared a “pause” for today and Wednesday, but vowed to be back on the front lines if their demands – that the Bangkok emergency decree be lifted and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha resign – are not met.
Tyler Roney is a freelance photojournalist based in Bangkok.