When political protests started last July, college students took center stage. Then, high school students in uniform showed up, waving the three-finger salute—the faces of middle-class Thai youths.
On 7 August’s march to the First Infantry Regiment, the home of the General Prayut Chan-o-cha, youths as young as 15 and 16 years old formed the frontline. They hurled themselves towards the police barricade time and again, only to be beaten back by tear gas and rubber bullets time and again.
Wearied and vomiting from the tear gas, many sat at the foot of the bridge, behind the frontline, as another group took up the fight. A teenager was on a megaphone, rallying his friends.
“Let’s go!” he shouted. “We must keep on fighting! We must help our friends at the front!”
The youths picked themselves up, put on their helmets and goggles, and joined the frontline again. Slingshots, firecrackers, rocks, and bottles, they fought back.
The scene repeated itself over and over. Male and female teenagers and young adults took turns marching across “no man’s land,” beaten back by tear gas and rubber bullets.
When the protest was called off, a few die-hards remained. Finally, the police charged out of their line, wielding batons and spraying rubber bullets.
The scene has become a routine ever since protests restarted these past few weeks. On their motorbikes, they come by the tens and hundreds. The faces are getting younger and angrier.
Yesterday, a 14-year-old youth was shot and hospitalized.
These youths do not heed protest leaders nor follow protest plans. Instead, they seek police barricades and want to break through.
When the protests started last year, young people were fighting for the hope of their future. These youths of the current protests, from lower-income families, are fighting against the hopelessness of their present.
The question is not just why they fight. The question is also how we, the adults, have let them down and brought them into this present of hopelessness.