Even as pro-democracy protestors faced off against in riot police with batons, shields and water cannons in Bangkok, fellow university students in Chiang Mai have ramped up their efforts, rallying Friday night for political reform and the release of jailed movement leaders in the northern city.
More than 1,000 students gathered just outside Chiang Mai University’s women’s dormitory, with speakers taking the microphone at 5 p.m., alternately lambasting the government’s arrests of their leaders and the system problems they see in the country’s political and legal systems.
The event followed a smaller demonstration of about 100 people outside the Chiang Mai Provincial Court where core pro-democracy movement core leaders Anon Nampa and Prasit Krutharoj were being charged, then detained, without bail.
Organizers passed out protest headbands and attendees were encouraged to write their feelings about democracy on Post-it notes that were stuck to the stage. A few motorbike police officers kept watch as they kept traffic organized through the busy campus.
Chiang Mai University’s pro-democracy group, the Community of Mor Chor, has been the driving force behind the demonstrations there. Similar to the much larger Free People Movement based in Bangkok, Mor Chor has dedicated itself to “true” democracy and freedom of speech.
By 6 p.m., the heavens opened, but the students remain undeterred, popping open umbrellas and marching across the street. Organizers announced that the protest would move to the dorm cafeteria.
“The night is still young,” said one young protestor sadi when asked if the rain would put an end to the evening.
The room of about 30 lunch tables filled quickly with soggy students. Those who couldn’t find seating happily sat on the floor. Entrances and exits became jammed with
One lunch table was used as a makeshift stage. CMU Student Council members passed out snacks, water and medical supplies. Organizers gave speeches and encouraged students to take the microphone and tell their stories. About a dozen did.
Students used social media platforms to livestream the event to their friends at home.
Announcements about Bangkok’s escalating activities were shared throughout the evening. When the announcement came that large water cannons were used on crowds, the Chiang Mai students erupted. Rumors of a 5-year-old getting anti-riot chemicals in his eyes shifted the spirits into high gear. The speakers pressed on with speeches and the energy of the students endured.
“Tonight is a protest about my government. My government is bullshit,” said a 20-year-old CMU student. “They use violence against some people and even babies in the protest in Bangkok. And now, we want to protest to help Bangkok.”
The demonstration ended around 9 p.m. and drew more than 1,000 attendees, an impressive for Chiang Mai and a sign of increased interest in the movement.
It also marked the second straight day of protests on the Chiang Mai University campus and event organizers plan to host more campus demonstrations in coming days.
As interest in the movement happening around Thailand grows, Chiang Mai can expect greater turnout and increased frequency of the pro-democracy protests.
Will Langston is a Chiang Mai-based photojournalist.