Rubber ducks became the newest icon of the Thai democracy movement after protesters used them as shields against police water cannons on November 17. The rubber ducks were used again the following day during a rally condemning police violence.
Images of a rubber duck stained with purple-colored chemicals from the water used in the cannons went viral, inspiring memes and messages of solidarity from activists, artists, and internet users in Thailand and also in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The November 17 rally near the parliament was organized to push for constitutional amendments, which is one of the demands of the youth-led protest movement. The other two demands include proposals for monarchy reform and an end to the persecution of critics of the military-backed government.
READ MORE: Why are young people protesting in Thailand?
Prachatai, an independent news website and a content partner of Global Voices, provided background on how the rubber ducks became ‘heroes’ on November 17
At 16.00, on Samsen Road, in front of the Boon Rawd Brewery Co, Ltd, the police fired water cannons and tear gas at the protesters again, while protesters at the Kiak Kai Intersection brought in the giant inflatable ducks, nicknamed “the navy” and previously intended as a mockery of the government, to be used as shields against the water cannon.
Writing for the Thai Enquirer, Jasmine Chia also gave an account of what happened that day:
Huge, yellow, inflatable, the rubber ducks were pushed to the front and took on the brunt of the water cannons. Few knew where they came from. But all witnessed their heroism: protesters, veiled with thin green plastic rain jackets, ducked behind the ducks as wave after wave of chemicals hit the protesters. Afterward, pictures were disseminated in the press: of the rubber ducks, slightly deflated, stained purple but still smiling.
Thailand protests – More rubber ducks resisting water cannons pic.twitter.com/HA5DC85SQL
— Hatice ‘Deniz’ AVCI (@HaticeDenizAVCI) November 17, 2020
Jasmine Chia also wrote about why protesters brought the rubber ducks to the protest:
The image of Thai authorities, armed to the teeth with riot gear and shields, facing off against…rubber ducks…highlights the sheer asymmetry of the battle between protester and state.
In many ways, the yellow duck captures what is so brave about some of today’s protesters: that they are engaging the powers that be without force.
The rubber ducks were welcomed once more during the indignation protest on November 18:
We will have to see what roles these ducks will play today. At yesterday's protest, frontline demonstrators used them as shields against riot police water cannons and projectiles thrown by royalist counter-protesters. #ม็อบ18พฤศจิกา #Thailand #KE #WhatsHappeninglnThailand pic.twitter.com/7FCXEr2iCI
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) November 18, 2020
Artists and internet users in Thailand were quick to celebrate the rise of the rubber ducks as an icon of the protest movement:
— #NoCPTPP • ̀- •́ (@planktonenteen_) November 17, 2020
Here’s a depiction of the rubber duck as protector of young activists:
— bitch ❤???? (@wayu3738) November 17, 2020
This Star Wars-inspired political cartoon features the rubber ducks challenging the military ‘empire’:
#ขอบคุณฟันเฟืองประชาธิปไตย @PravitR @FCCThai @pedroletti @RichardBarrow @Thai_Talk @suranand @Piyabutr_FWP @AbbottKingsley A new Hope : X-wing duckfighters vs Death-of-Democracy Star #StarWars pic.twitter.com/2qd20jORBd
— stephff cartoonist (@stephffart) November 19, 2020
Solidarity from the #MilkTeaAlliance
Solidarity posts were shared by those who support the Milk Tea Alliance, an informal network of democracy activists in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Prominent Hong Kong youth activist Joshua Wong praised the bravery of Thai activists and the creative use of the rubber ducks:
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 ? (@joshuawongcf) November 18, 2020
Another activist from Hong Kong made this Hokusai-inspired artwork, which features rubber ducks sailing the ‘great wave’:
— James Lee Proudfoot (@PhilosophyNook) November 18, 2020
Australia-based Chinese artist and activist Badiucao posted these tweets in support of Thai protesters:
In Rubber Duck, We Trust!
Art for supporting the on going pro democracy #ThailandProtests
Keep up the good fight and be safe everyone!
— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) November 18, 2020
1）Art for supporting #Thailand pro democracy protest.
Last night Giant rubber ducks were used by the young students protesters to protect themselves from the attack of police water cannons.
Thats what inspires the drawing.#ม็อบ17พฤศจิกา #whatishappeninginthailand pic.twitter.com/HBwdoB2JoX
— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) November 18, 2020
And finally, a solidarity event was held by activists in Taiwan:
The solidarity event in support of the Thais is happening right now in Taiwan, in front of the Thailand Trade and Economic Office.#StandWithThailand#WhatsHappeningInThailand#MilkTeaAlliance https://t.co/x1yOikjB4V pic.twitter.com/f9biNJeILx
— Roy Ngerng (@royngerng) November 22, 2020