My name is Virakri, a Thai who is a resident in the US city of Boston. I am a member of a Thai pro-democracy group in the Boston area called “Boston for Thai Democracy,” which teamed up in mid-October 2020. Since then, the group has held several demonstrations in the Massachusetts area, particularly at King Bhumibol Adulyadej square. Throughout the campaign, people in the group have been threatened multiple times by people who claim to be royalists.
The first demonstration took place on October 19, 2020. It was an immediate response to the brutal crackdowns by police in Bangkok from October 13, 2020. However, the demonstration was initially proposed to be held at King Bhumibol square. Only hours before the event however, one of the organizers was harshly told not to go there. This influenced a change if location to Boston Common, a central public park in down-town Boston.
On the day before the demonstration, as a participant in the activity, I implored the group organizers that we shouldn’t change location just because outsiders had asked for it. Instead we had to stick by our ideology and not restricted ourselves for the satisfaction of others. That is, I believe to a large extent, the root of the chronic dilemma in Thailand (unfortunately, it was too late to speak up and the demonstration took place at Boston Common).
As the event was wrapping up, all of the 40 people at the rally agreed that the next demonstration needed to be held at King Bhumibol Adulyadej square: Our freedom of speech would be declared no matter what. After the demonstration, I volunteered to be a part of the organizers to help with future events. The members and I decided to hold another rally on November 1, 2020, this time at the King Bhumibol square.
King Bhumibol square here we come
As soon as the decision was made, we published the poster on social media on different channels, including คนไทยในบอสตัน (Thai society in Boston) Facebook group, which is the most popular Facebook page among Thais in this Boston area for announcing or advertising goods or events, and รอยัลลิสมารเก็ตเพลส-ตลาดหลวง (Royalist marketplace) the most popular Facebook group talking and criticizing Thailand’s monarchy.
After we published the event posters, we were to receive endless criticism about the location, primarily for being disrespectful and for creating conflict among Thais among the Boston community. However, this time, we stuck firm: we finally held the protest with the theme of “End the Silence” on November 1 at 2pm at Boston’s King Bhumibol square.
Throughout the event there was retaliation and harassment from Thai royalists who had showed up to defend the previous Thai king’s name. The royalists guarded the King Bhumibol monument and set barricades. They yelled and sang the royal anthem to disrupt our protests while people in my group gave speeches. Eventually, the demonstration was wrapped up around 3 PM as intended.
After the activity, a some of the protesters went to the King Bhumibol Birthplace monument and took photos with the poster boards that they had brought. While do so, some of the royalists approached them and aggressively told them that that taking pictures with the billboards and texts was illegal and and the police would be called. Not wishing to provoke a conflict, the pro democracy protesters dispersed.
Threats would follow the protests
In the evening on that day, one of the organizers got messages from the president of The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF), the foundation donating the monument to the city of Cambridge, talking about an incident happening earlier and saying that was wrongdoing and wanted to report the person to the police and the city. Besides, she also claimed that she knew that some participants lacked legal immigration status and threatened to report wrongdoers to homeland security so they would be deported. In the message, she also mentioned that she worked for the government.
In the week after the demonstration, this person continuously sent messages and images to ask if our group knew those in the pictures and threatened us the same way as previously. She also instructed us to tell those people in images to take down social media phots; otherwise, they would have would for their intrusive actions.
The week after the demonstration, she also called a restaurant which employed one of the people in the photos that she mentioned. She asked the restaurant’s manager to fire that person, or she would would report to business to the IRS (the federal tax bureau) office for investigation.
After the incidents, the group sought legal advice about the claims that she made and was told that these actions were unlawful. The lawyer said that holding the signs or billboards right next to the monument could not be illegal, particularly as it is a public space. The lawyer even said that the constitution protected these activities.
With this knowledge, our group set up another demonstration for November 22, 2020 to respond to another violent crackdown in Bangkok and as well as some of the Thai royalists’ intimidation in Boston. Our group also began a new campaign: the “Taboo Monument,” directed against suppression with fear and to campaign for an open, free and safe space for people to directly talk on different topics, particularly the topics about the monarchy without being harassed.
On the day, participants and I held the sign and billboards right next to the monument and took photos to stand firm against intimidating to limit freedom of expression. We also had some fun fashion dresses for participants to wear and a yellow duck, the symbol of a peaceful demonstration from the protest on November 15 in Bangkok.
Throughout the activity, one royalist was trying to stand in the way from us to take pictures with the monument. As we know that what we were doing is protected by the constitution, so we continued running the activities by completely ignoring what she was doing and avoiding talking with or contradicting her.
Finally to wrap up the demonstration, for fun we decided to dance with the Royal Guards March (มาร์ชราชวัลลภ), the remixed version of the seventh royal song of King Bhumibol, around the monument.
The writer is a Thai resident of Boston, USA