Opinion: It is time for some youth protesters to show more maturity

Civil disobedience has been at the heart of many successful socio-political movements throughout history. At its core, this tactic seeks not only to challenge oppressive systems but to garner public sympathy and support. The recent protest by Thaluwang in front of Bhumjai Thai Party shows that the optics and perception of a movement can be as critical as its message. Acts of violence or aggression, even if unintentional, can taint an entire movement, costing it its moral high ground.

One only has to look at the most successful instances of civil disobedience campaigns to see how messaging was as important as the message.

Gandhi: The Torchbearer of Non-Violence

Mahatma Gandhi, one of the pioneers of civil disobedience, showcased the profound impact of peace and restraint. His Satyagraha movement in India centered around “truth-force” and non-cooperation with oppressive colonial rule. Gandhi, despite facing immense brutality, consistently preached that activists should never resort to violence. His iconic Salt March, where he and thousands marched to the Arabian Sea to make their own salt as a symbol against the British salt tax, exemplified this principle. It was not the act of making salt that was powerful, but the image of peaceful protesters confronting an unjust law that galvanized the world.

Martin Luther King Jr: A Dream of Equality

Across the oceans, in America, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by Gandhi’s methods. His fight against racial discrimination, epitomized by the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, was rooted in non-violence. Dr. King faced intense aggression and hate, but his teachings emphasized love and understanding as the most potent tools against oppression. His “I Have a Dream” speech resonated globally, not because of its fiery rhetoric, but because of its message of hope, unity, and peace. The optics of his protesters being hosed, chased down by police dogs, and being beaten while maintaining non aggression lives long in the memory.

Lessons from History

These iconic leaders and others, including Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, understood that the success of civil disobedience relies heavily on public perception. Movements are bolstered when the public sees peaceful activists facing down oppressive systems. Conversely, when protesters resort to or are perceived as using violence, it can provide regimes or opposition with ammunition to discredit the entire movement.

The incident with the youth activists from Thaluwang serves as a stark reminder of this fact. The blockage of the Bhumjaithai Party’s convoy may have overshadowed the core message these activists aimed to convey. As Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch pointed out, it is vital for activists to maintain a code of conduct that leans into peace and avoids aggressive behavior.

The youth activists must also keep in mind that these representatives are still elected by the people. We may not agree with their politics, we may find their backtracking and backstabbing repulsive, and we may find their alliance with the military evil but we cannot stoop down to their level. Let the dirtiness happen in their backrooms and smoke clubs.

While the emotions and stakes in socio-political movements can be high, it is paramount for activists to remember the lessons from the past. The optics of civil disobedience, the perception of a movement in the eyes of the public, are as vital as the core message. By embodying peace, even in the face of aggression, hate, and cheating, movements can truly change the course of history.

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