Across Thailand, students organize protests and issue the same three core demands: stop harassing the people, dissolve the parliament, and draft a new constitution.
All three demands boil down to one word “democracy.”
But this is what the other side hears: Conspiracy theory. Violating the monarchy. Anti-monarchy activities. A plot to overthrow the monarchy.
Of course, at many of these protests, there are words and banners in the crowd critical of the monarchy. To say otherwise would be a lie. However, on the stage and in official demands, it’s merely democracy that the young people are asking for.
Furthermore, unlike every other protest led by “adults” over the past 15 years, these student protests are peaceful.
The danger of missing the point
If a group of citizens misses the point, it’s not a big deal. But when the prime minister and the army chief miss the point, it’s dangerous.
The prime minister himself warned, “The people of Thailand won’t put up with this.” The army chief choked back tears, pleading, “Don’t violate the monarchy.” Meanwhile, reactionary impulse overwhelms the conservative generation.
Across social media, they post the warning, “Don’t violate the monarchy.” They march to the army chief to urge him to act on these “anti-monarchy activities.”
The eminent danger is while the young mobilize to demand rights, liberty, and equality, the old panic over the word “monarchy” and appeal to those who have guns and historically the willingness to use them.
We have seen all of this before
In a recent protest in Korat Province, the students added one more demand: “Do not use the institution to attack students.” They added the demand because they know what’s coming.
From the student uprising in 1973 to the present time, when reactionary impulse rages over the word “monarchy,” things get out of hand. Tanks roll in and bullets fly, with those reactionaries looking on and saying to themselves, “This is the right thing to do.”
The danger of history repeating itself, of the next round of bloodshed, is because, while the young say “we want democracy,” the old hear “overthrow the monarchy.”
Here’s the truth of it
Sarcastic signs and smartass hashtags are no threat to the most powerful and revered institution in the land.
In a democracy, people have the right to worship, as well, people have the right to disagree. Disagreement is not a threat; it’s human. We can debate over differences; there’s no need to involve the gangster tactic of tanks, guns, and prisons. We must be better than this.
The authorities “visiting” homes and schools to issue “warning” is the harassment of citizens. It’s a fear tactic employed to intimidate and to silence the people. To demand a stop to this is not a threat to the institution.
To demand a new constitution drafted on the principles of democracy is not a threat to the institution. To have an election that takes the 250 junta-appointed senators out of the equation is not a threat to the institution.
These demands are for the rights, liberty, and equality of all citizens, young and old, worshippers and non-worshippers.
We can agree to disagree
Thailand can have a segment of the population that reveres the monarchy, while the other that’s detached, and it’s okay. It’s human nature to have different values. Other constitutional monarchies have done it; we can do it too.
The only thing under threat by student protests is the power of the elites and of military rule.
If the older generation wants young people to respect their reverence for the monarchy, set an example for the young by respecting their rights to democracy.
Be an adult and extend a hand.