The student pro-democracy movement that began on Bangkok university campuses has spread nationwide, attracting Thais both older and younger, including teenagers on high-school campuses where groups are now collaborating across cities and age groups.
The Free Youth event at Chiang Mai University attracted a few hundred people who were all supported making changes to the Thai political system.
Underneath a pavilion called “Salaang Keaw”, the two protest groups shared the stage in speech, song and performance art, expressing their desired revisions to Thai laws and regulations. The modest crowd consisted of predominantly college and high school students.
“Tonight’s protest is much more chill and informative than the other recent protests,” said one high school girl who went by Seriphap, or “Freedom”. “It almost feels like an educational conference that drives deep into what the problems and solutions are. Plus, tonight’s protest has music and plays.”
The excited high-schooler said she wanted to be part of the movement because “change is happening and I want to walk with everyone who is fighting for real equality and democracy.”
“Freedom” was one of dozens of other high school girls attending who put tape over their their names and schools embroidered onto their uniform blouses.
While many Thai students have joined the growing protests, the majority wear masks and hide their identities as Thailand’s strict lese-majeste law forbids insulting the monarchy.
“All of my family supports me in joining the protests because in my family we believe that sovereignty must belong to the people,” Freedom said. “There is a feeling that we’re running out of time.
“There might be a point of no return when we can’t solve anything; when everything is down too deep. If that time comes, we wouldn’t just be dead, we would be drowning in poverty and inequality submerged by capitalism and elites. And, it would be worse than death itself,” she said.
Freedom wasn’t alone in her passion. The youthful crowd erupted throughout the evening as stage plays unfolded and speeches given by the Community of Mor Chor and Lanyim Theatre soared.
While some older Thais attended, it was truly the teens and young adults who stoked the energy level. The cheering peaked when a young high school girl dressed in uniform took the stage to speak powerfully about the future of Thailand.
When asked about what she would like to say to Thai highschool students who didn’t participate, she responded,
“There’s a price for everything, whether it’s the price for standing up and fighting or the price to be a bystander,” she said, directing her comments to fellow pupils who remain on the sidelines. “Even in the darkest place there’s always a light. It’s better to fight than to drown in the darkness.”
The rally ran until around 8:30pm without any arrests. While the Community of MorChor and Lanyim Theater have more events planned for the near future, the group’s eyes are on October 14th where one of the largest pro-democracy groups in Thailand ‘Free Youth’ will be hosting what is slated to be the biggest protest of the year yet.
With the main student movement preparing for another massive protest rally at the Democracy Monument Oct. 14, Freedom said she wants to go.
“It’s expensive, but if we can get the money, my family and I will be there, for sure.”
Will Langston is a freelance photojournalist based in Chiang Mai.