Late Wednesday afternoon, a dozen students gathered outside their high school. They faced the Democracy Monument and raised signs demanding wholesale change.
They were from Satriwithaya School, a high school next to the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. To them, it is more than a reminder of previous generations’ struggles but a symbol of their own.
“We don’t want to be next to the Democracy Monument, which these days is only a roundabout for vehicles,” said a student, whose face was covered in a mask to cover her identity and did not give her name for fear of reprisal by the authorities. “We want the monument to be meaningful, as it should be. We want to be living next to democracy, geographically and ideologically.”
After a brief, symbolic demonstration, she and the others walked over 4 kilometers to join art students at Silpakorn University about to start what, since Saturday, have been called “flash mob” protests that share the same goals. One of them is that Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha must step down and return the power to the people.
It’s a level of student involvement and activity unseen during the past six years since Prayuth seized power in a coup. Now, following the disbanding of the progressive Future Forward Party that enjoyed wide youth support on Friday, dozens of schools – universities, colleges and high schools – are protesting his government.
Over at Silpakorn University’s Wang Thaphra campus in Bangkok, students gathered around the statue of the fine arts school’s Italian-born founder, Silpa Bhirasri (Corrado Feroci).
Adapting the university’s motto of “Life is short, art is long;” students painted a wall mural reading “Life is short, democracy is long.”
“Silpakorn stands by the people. We are history. Don’t let anyone write history for us!” shouted Thundorn Kulkliang, a third-year student from the Faculty of Archaeology.
By 6pm, hundreds of students showed up at the venue, one of several hosting similar protests. Student leaders such as Thundorn gave speeches. Together, everyone shouted “Prayuth Get Out!” and raised three fingers in a symbolic, anti-military salute.
At least three plainclothes officers appeared to observe the proceedings.
“I thought fewer people would show up,” Thundorn said after he delivered his Hyde Park-style speech. “Silpakorn University is often seen by the public to be politically ignorant and salim,” he said, using a term for culturally and politically conservative Yellowshirts.
Just before 7pm, students flashed their phone lights as another gesture of unity and chanted Do You Hear the People Sing?, the defiant chorus from the musical Les Misérables.
“We’re not just art students who get to only draw and paint to express our opinions,” said another student, who asked that her name not be published. “We actually can do more, showing up and speaking out like this. I’m so proud to be here today.”