On Sunday July 19 several hundred students, activists and other (mostly) young people gathered on the plaza by the Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai to protest the current Thai government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. [The picture of the gathering is thanks to Chiang Mai Citylife magazine.] The gathering was in all ways peaceful. The crowd listened, cheered, made and waved signs, and enjoyed the rather decent weather. Then a police car came, and a young officer with a public address speaker sitting on the roof called for the crowd to disperse since it was in violation of the emergency decree to contain the spread of COVID-19. He warned that such a gathering could cause a new outbreak of the epidemic, but he did not try to explain how that could happen with no known carriers of COVID-19 being found for nearly two months. The officer was at a disadvantage since his little speaker was no match for the young people who simply drowned him out.
News media are reporting three gatherings, with the “main” one at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Saturday night. It was peaceful, too. Police guarded against the group “taking over” the monument as student protests have done in the past. The third was in Ubol on Sunday. The Bangkok Post newspaper was probably right in calling these gatherings rallies.
I found myself surprised. Over the past two months I seem to have grown used to such rallies turning into scenes of pandemonium when troops swarm down the street behind a wall of shields while protesters who are too slow or unlucky are gassed. This timid one in Chiang Mai was a jolt. I sat in my chair and wondered at the ironic contrast between those Sunday video clips. One set from the country being run by the military where response to a mass gathering was that a couple of cops were sent to scold a crowd of youngsters (from my aged perspective) who were really signaling their arrival on the steps toward running the country in a decade or so. The other clips this weekend were from the “greatest democracy and freest land on earth” where secret police in battle uniforms invaded a city and trounced people (one in a wheel chair) for painting graffiti on public buildings while at the other side of the country the President cheered and announced the names of cities he expects to “subdue” next.
It is a topsy-turvy world, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning said.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.