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Jul 1, 2020-2020


Student Flash Mobs Against Authoritarianism in Thailand



Thai Artists; Thai Art Students; Free Youth; Free Art Alliance


Thai Government; Thai Monarchy; Thai Art Scene Elites; Bangkok Art and Culture Centre


Protesters called for democratic reforms of the government, an expansion of human rights, and a reform of leadership in the state-backed Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.


Issue and opponent: Since 1932, when a coup ended the monarchy’s absolute rule, there have been countless government coups in Thailand. Most recently in 2014 and every time they say it will not happen again. Protesters demand the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military ruler. They also openly criticized King Maha Vajiralongkorn despite lese majeste laws that can mean 15 years in jail for insulting the monarchy. They say the monarchy has helped perpetuate years of political influence by the army and seeks to curb its powers. Protesters say Prayuth engineered 2019’s election to keep the power he seized in the 2014 coup. Two events were the final straws triggering the 2020 mass protests, in February 2020 the Constitutional Court disbanded the Future Forward Party, the opposition party, for obscure reasons, sparking protests across more than 50 university campuses and high schools. The second trigger was the disappearance in July 2020 of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a prominent Thai pro-democracy activist lived in exile in Cambodia since 2014.
Dilemma Action: From July to December 2020, diverse civic networks staged the largest and longest protests since the 2014 coup. Protesters drew on various tactical innovations to push back against regime repression and voice democratic demands, including monarchy reform. On September 12, according to the activist artist Mit Jai Inn, around 2,000 art students held a flash occupation at the state-backed Bangkok Art and Culture Centre to protest against elitism in the art world. On other days, protesters linked arms, held their flashlights in the air waving them, held up three fingers alluding to The Hunger Games and a common symbol of these protests, and spoke out against the government/monarchy, despite its being illegal to do so. At their peak, the youth-led demonstrations attracted almost 100,000 participants. The youth-led protests devised social media platforms to enhance mass mobilization. Protesters’ general commitment to nonviolence contributed to sustaining the movement’s credibility throughout.
Outcome: The government banned all political gatherings of five or more people. Police have arrested more than 50 people, including several protest leaders. The Royal Palace did not make comments on the protests but the king said that Thailand needs people who love the country and the monarchy. Bail was also granted to one of two activists charged with trying to harm the queen after protesters shouted at her. Thailand’s protests became a regional sensation by inspiring similar pro-democracy struggles in Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar.






9 / 12

(EREP) Dilemma action got replicated by other movements

(MC) Media Coverage

(MSYMP) Media coverage was sympathetic to the activists

(OR) Opponent response

(PS) Dilemma action built sympathy with the public

(PUN) Punishment favored the activists

(REFR) Dilemma action reframed the narrative of the opponent

(RF) Dilemma action reduced fear and/or apathy among the activists

(SA) Dilemma action appealed to a broad segment of the public


2 / 3

Encouraged more participants to join the movement

Internally replicated by the same movement


Project documentation

Dilemma Actions Coding Guidebook

Case study documentation


CC BY 4.0 Deed, Attribution 4.0 International


Movius, Lisa. 2020. “Student flash mobs in Thailand target ‘art scene run by elite old men,’” The Art Newspaper. Retrieved July 23, 2023. (https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2020/09/24/student-flash-mobs-in-thailand-target-art-scene-run-by-elite-old-men).

Freeman-Woolpert, Sarah. 2020. “In Thailand, nonviolent discipline is key in surging pro-democracy movement,” Waging Nonviolence. Retrieved July 23, 2023. (https://wagingnonviolence.org/2020/11/thailand-coup-nonviolence-democracy-movement/).

Thepgumpanat, Patpicha. 2020. “Tens of thousands protest across Thailand in defiance of ban,” Reuters. Retrieved July 23, 2023. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-protests-idUSKBN27206N).

Sombatpoonsiri, Janjira. 2021. “From Repression to Revolt: Thailand’s 2020 Protests and the Regional Implications,” GIGA. Retrieved July 23, 2023. (https://www.giga-hamburg.de/en/publications/giga-focus/repression-revolt-thailand-s-2020-protests-regional-implications).

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