Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2015
Streets in downtown Bangkok and the centres of several cities in Isan and Lanna—the Northeast and North of the country — were occupied by protestors from March to May of 2010. As the days went by and tensions grew, fuelled by anger and rhetoric, the odd bombing and assassination, the protests appeared to draw ever greater crowds, especially at weekends. This was the most incongruous act of public political consciousness and uprising in the history of Thailand.
Explanation of the causes and nature of the 2010 protests requires, first, a brief description of the protests and their denouement (informed in this case by direct experience of them) and, second, dismissal of several accounts of the protests that play down their significance and misrepresent their nature. Such explanation clears the way for the central argument of this essay, that the protests were a withdrawal of consent to be governed by people who felt that their rights had been pushed aside by a privileged minority whose members favoured restoring and perpetuating inequality and were willing to use coercion to impose their interests on the country at large.
Protestors began their occupations of the Phan Fa Bridge and Ratchadamnoen Avenue and of Ratchaprasong — a commercial district of glitzy malls, glass skyscrapers and luxury hotels and apartments — in March 2010. The mood was joyous, the atmosphere almost like that of a carnival with hawkers quick to move in to offer all the staples of life usually sold on the streets of Bangkok. Thousands of free meals were dished up daily. Hundreds of speakers and dozens of video screens were erected around the protest sites. Professional film crews broadcast the events. Enthusiastic staff and volunteers managed security, received donations and tried to return lost items to their owners.
By day protestors often numbered only in the hundreds. As night fell people came in their thousands, poor and rich together, sitting and standing, chatting and cheering in streets usually jammed with cars. They listened intently as one orator after another took to the stage, speakers and radio eerily echoing their voices far beyond, to condemn the 19 September 2006 coup, the Army and the government; to speak of injustice, unfairness and double standards; to demand a free and fair election. They spoke with colour and flair.