In the past week, there were student rallies against the government. Combined, this was the largest political protest since General Prayut Chan-ocha took power. What’s more important is that this was organized by students from around the country, from high schools to universities, from numbering in the tens to the thousands.
In these protests, the use of hashtags was used in a fun and important way. Some hashtags used included #เสาหลักจะไม่หักอีกต่อไป (the foundation will not be broken anymore) #KUไม่ใช่ขนมหวานราดกะทิ (KU is not a coconut dessert) and others. It is the first movement of a new generation that has been oppressed for some time and aimed not just at the coup makers but the people that support them.
As a political activist that has organized against this government since the start, these protests I felt buoyed by what I saw. There were many that mentioned me and other organizers in a positive way. Some who used to criticize me said that the current events have changed their mind. Where before, I was accused of being violent-minded and talking about subjects that were not permitted to be discussed, now I get retweeted by the thousands.
While many of my peers want the movement to echo the events of October 14, 1973, there are many that have expressed concerns that it may echo another October event in the 1970s, when the students were massacred on October 6, 1976, or the more recent crackdown on redshirts in 2010.
In the past, our concerns would be addressed by our elders and more experienced, but this seems to have changed. Now twitter has become a platform that we are using to exchange ideas, critique one another and solve problems. For example, we have used twitter to address rallies where hate speech was used too frequently or rallies that were too violent or off-topic. I am not certain in our country’s history whether we’ve had such a space to carry out these discussions.
The twitter world is fast-moving but allows us time to pause and reflect and even delete tweets (although it could be screen-capped). Yet in a protest situation, while I understand emotions run high and we may be prone to outburst, saying the wrong thing can put other people in the protest at risk.
In a democracy, freedom of expression is protected. But in a society led by coup makers, speech is censored and the avenues to expression are narrow. In our history, those with powers often twist arguments to their own ends. The students of October 6 may have been fighting for farmers and workers, but the powers labeled them all communists.
The government, and their now publicized IO program, are going to use every opportunity to find fault with our movement and incite hatred towards us. Using slangs like ‘salim’ may stir our emotions but we must not make this a generational conflict, that is what the government wants.
We must imagine the society that we want and have it reflected in our actions.
If all our arguments come from the internet and social media, ultimately our motives and end goals will be mixed to the point where we do not have clear objectives. While if all our arguments come from forums and debates then we do not take into account the real-world concerns found in online forums.
Rather we must be like the fox of Isaiah Berlin whose worldview cannot be boiled down into a single issue, rather it is a complicated and evolving mesh of ideas.
Currently, the student movement is in a nascent stage, still finding itself amid online and offline input. Certainly, our creativity is not lacking, the hashtags prove that. But the challenge now is to funnel that energy into setting goals for ourselves both in the short term, medium-term, and long term.
We have to remember that this fight, win or lose, will reflect on us and shape the course of our country’s future forever.
I always want to remind the students about the worst-case scenario and what we would do if that were to happen.
We need to remind ourselves that this is a long struggle, one that won’t be finished in 30 days or even a year. We must steel ourselves for the struggle and fight with hope on our side because that is what we have. Time is not on anyone’s side.
The online world will help us organize and contribute ideas, but it will never replace in-person dialogue, discussion and debate. A coffee shop where one can discuss ideas must become as important as anything that we do online.
We must keep up this protest through a variety of mediums whether its discussion, talks, essays or even songs and movies. We must also draw upon the history and realize that the most successful movements have been nonviolent in nature.
Nonviolence doesn’t mean inaction, it doesn’t mean doing nothing and saying nothing rather it is the opposite, it means resisting the government, resisting oppression at every given opportunity. We can all be involved and choose to participate in this rather than the state’s version of this game which involves violence and suppression.
I want to end with a thought from Srda Popovic who said that the success of a movement depends on three things, unity, planning, and discipline.