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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Column: Sketchy petitioning being done by the No Limits Project

Ever heard of “bait and switch”?

Try this: go up to some patrons in the dining hall the day before spring break and ask them if they’ll sign your petition. Approach them nicely, and when they ask you what the petition is about, explain very humbly that you just want a few changes made to some school policies. Chances are that you’ll get some complimentary smiles, and the students will sign your petition just to have you move on. Bait.
Then try this: take your petition list, and exploit it for a no-holds-barred, in-your-face campaign filled with upside-down logos, aggressive demands, and vaguely worded threats of “escalation” if they are not complied with. But, to make the trick really powerful, publish the list of petitioners on the internet and proclaim that they’re equal members of a non-hierarchical organization that reaches its decisions through collective discussion … and switch.

This, in a nutshell, is my experience with the No Limits Project. When I signed the petition on March 14, 2009, I was never informed that I had signed up for a radical campaign of escalating action. Not until the next morning, anyway, when I received in my campus mailbox a bombastic fake newspaper informing me that what I thought “yesterday” were “requests,” had “today,” in fact, become “demands.” The contrast between each day could not have been starker; where dialog reigned before, command reigned today.

Further, despite their pretension to “non-hierarchical” decision-making, No Limits did not once ask me for input between the day I signed up and the day they launched their campaign. I doubt they asked any other petition-signers for input then, either. NLP’s egalitarian rhetoric aside, 200 students did not simply meet one night to openly discuss and vote on the best strategies for success.

No. The opening tactics of the No Limits Project had already been preset by its initial organizers, and they somewhat deceptively marshaled 200 signatures so as to add a superficial layer of mass-legitimacy to these tactics. Worse, contacting the organizers today is next to impossible, because the No Limits Project website obfuscates them. For example, according to the FAQ page, you can find 30 “selected” student contacts on the NLP list of demands. Go to the demands page, however, and these “selected contacts” are nowhere to be found.

Moreover, who exactly “selected” these students—or on what criteria they were “selected”—is another mystery. Presumably some preexisting group of leaders chose them, because as a petition-signer, I certainly never got a ballot.

I feel saddened by all this. The No Limits Project has some admirable objectives, which, at the very least, deserve attention and campus-wide discussion. Indeed, some of the less costly objectives could probably even be implemented, if focused on the right institutional channels. But the tone of the Project has alienated some of its own petition-signers, including me. If you signed the petition and want off of it now as well, I suggest you send the anonymous No Limits account an e-mail.

Just don’t fall for the old bait and switch.

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