When the rioters besieged the government compound, they weren’t met with violent opposition, but police and military who graciously waved them in. On orders from the Prime Minister not to escalate the conflict or do any more harm, they simply stood aside and let the protestors into the buildings, like welcomed house guests. The protestors did enter, but were instantly pacified, dropping weapons and unmasking their faces, a suddenly-diffused well-behaved tour group. They did not harm anyone, nor did they damage any property at all, they just entered in congregation of a symbolic victory. The calmed protesters mingled with the police, all seen smiling and chatting among the same forces who were throwing bombs and clubbing each other the day before. They were given the run of the place and the police did not make any arrests or harass anyone. Eventually, most of the protestors simply left – went home to their families for dinner – and were graciously waved goodbye by hundreds of unarmed female police.
The next day there were no protests, either. It was the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a benevolent figure revered with God-like stature among the Thai people. Officials, dignitaries, military elite, protesters, rebel leaders, and members of the business community, those who were mortal enemies only a few days before, met in tranquil peace for the festivities in his seaside hometown. Agendas were set aside, albeit reluctantly, and there were no problems, no violence in the streets. Instead, people waved yellow banners and chanted. “Long live the King,” in harmony.
There may still be problems, protests and violence - the opposition leaders have vowed to continue their protests until they force the prime minister out of office. The current government has responded with plans to include them in talks and institute more reforms to help the common people. But the military and police, whose support has long been seen as the tipping point in any coup, have declared that they’re happy to sit this one out and let diplomacy run its course, inspired by a sweet taste of pacifism.
Improbably, by the simple act of standing aside and welcoming in the protestors, a tiny gesture of peace, the cycle of opposition has been broken, anger blown from the hot streets like a pin-pricked red balloon; a rare and wonderful thing to witness, indeed.
It reminds me of something I read a long time ago: “Power is either shared, or it’s taken.” Come to think of it, there’s another quote that seems particularly apropos, spoken by a humble little Indian man in a loin cloth name Mahatma who single handedly toppled the British Empire: “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
However you want to express it, no matter how fleeting or insignificant it may appear, I felt the calling to share what happened in Thailand the other day with you, so we all might stop and celebrate a humble victory for humanity, the birthday of a King, and perhaps, learn an important lesson for tomorrow.