Often student activists are criticized for not proposing concrete solutions to the problems that others have identified. “Sure, you’re against our plan,” administrators and politicians ask, “but what alternative can you offer?”
Sometimes the “problem” is invented, of course, and sometimes students have detailed proposals at the ready, but not always. When the problem is real and students are offering no solution of their own, “what do you suggest we do?” is a legitimate question.
It’s a legitimate question. But “not this” is a legitimate answer.
Consider Mario Savio’s speech to the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964 — probably the most famous speech ever given by an American student activist:
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.
Faced with a university that was breaking his heart, Savio said “no.” He said “stop.” He didn’t say “here’s an alternative.” He said “not this.”
Sometimes students, organizing against an act or a decision or a proposal or an administration, have an alternative at hand. Sometimes they have a suggestion as to what should happen next, what should take the place of the current plan or the status quo. Sometimes they have many such suggestions.
But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes what they have is “not this.” Sometimes what they have is “no.” Sometimes what they have is “stop.”
And sometimes that “stop” is the most radical, most cogent, most effective, most reasonable intervention there is.