Alongside a Rastafarian-colored t-shirt of Barack Obama sporting an afro, a carton of “Barack is my homeboy” buttons and marijuana leaf patches decorate the stand of one street vendor on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue. Clothing and political paraphernalia emblazoned with the candidate’s face fill the street market and shelves of small and big businesses.
Everyone from street vendor veterans to artistic high schoolers come out to sell their Obama goods on Telegraph Avenue and other popular Bay Area streets.
And although most are supporters of Obama, many said they do not contribute a portion of their proceeds to the Obama campaign.
“I love the dude but what am I supposed to do, give him 10 cents for every 50 cents I make,” said Dante Garrett, a 17-year-old who sells Obama stickers he makes with Sharpies and US Postal labels.
“[Obama] should love me too, I got him looking like a gangsta and people be slapping these everywhere, bus stops and poles and stuff.”
Aside from not having a permit to sell items on the street, the United Democratic Campaign in Oakland and the California Democratic Party Headquarters office in Oakland said it is not illegal for anybody to sell Obama merchandise without his party’s consent, or without contributing proceeds to his Presidential campaign.
Although some might consider it unethical, others, like Matt Hummel, representative for the UDC in Oakland, consider Obama merchandise good, free advertising, and street vendors, as Hummel said, “a godsend.”
Some merchandise like the stickers Garrett sells might not be characteristic of the Obama campaign, but Garrett said no disrespect is intended.
“This is how we in Oakland are showing our support for him. I’m making [Obama] into one of us and we Oakland cats don’t do that for anyone,” Garrett said.
Obama is promoted through a variety of merchandise sold online, in stores and on streets by a multitude of organizations and communities and Hummel said that Obama’s campaign “is more democratic this way.”
“It’s not Obama telling you to vote for him, it’s the people,” said Hummel.
“I bought an ‘Alaskan Wildlife Foundation for Obama’ button, you know, and they’re selling that on [Obama’s] website.”
Even if vendors are not contributing to the Democratic campaign, Hummel said they are “getting a lot of work done” in terms of advertising.
Street vendor Ralph Like, who sits outside of Fat Pizza and sells an assortment of patches, including Obama-inspired ones, said he doesn’t contribute because, “I’m just trying to get my hands on whatever I can. If people weren’t buying these, I wouldn’t even sell them,” Like said
But people are buying Obama products, and they too are getting their hands on whatever they can.
Most of the merchandise on sale through Obama’s website is sold out, which causes many of his supporters to buy their items elsewhere.
According to Hummel, Obama’s campaign is “fully supporting” street vendors.
Darius Bell, an employee at Upper Playground on Telegraph, said Obama even endorsed a poster that the store was selling.
“He wasn’t down with a lot of [the images] for a while, but I guess he saw this one like a couple weeks before Denver and his party was really down for it,” said Bell.
“Now it’s like the staple image. The one they auction off and the one Obama signs.”
The poster was originally a painting by Shephard Fairey, an artist from San Francisco. Fairey’s painting was turned into a poster when the owner of Upper Playground asked Fairey to print some for his store.
Now Upper Playground hands the posters out for free, but Bell said it “disgusts” him when unregistered people collect the Obama goods.
“Everyone’s doing knock-off Obama images, but people still aren’t exercising their right to vote,” Bell said.
“People are willing to pay $27 on an Obama shirt, but they wont spend 30 seconds to register to vote.”
Anthony “T-One” Hudson, a registered voter who buys Obama merchandise, wears his Obama gear proudly and with a set of gold, diamond-encrusted grills. Hudson said that if he could sell Obama merchandise he would.
“I probably would send some [of the proceeds] but then I don’t know who to send it to and then there’s problems with permits,” Hudson said. “I’d probably just give some money to someone I see who needs it, like the homeless, or to a charity that I believe in.”
Whether vendors contribute to Obama’s campaign or not, many have taken advantage of the election season when advocating for causes in which they believe in.