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By Kelsey Lannin, Bay New Rising staff reporter —
As the California primary race wound down, candidates weren’t the only ones trying to make a few last-minute sales. At the Bernie Sanders rally at Crissy Field last week, vendors trafficking in campaign swag lined the walkways leading to the event.
“I have a bag full of shirts and stickers and stuff that we’re just giving away at this point because we’re running out of time,” said 24-year-old Tyler Iorillo, wearing a shirt he designed, reading “VOTE SANDERS, HE’S CHILL.”
The dozen or so merchandisers at the event set up shop on blankets and tables that dotted an event entrance marked by metal detectors and federal agents. Selling the gear without permits and campaign authorization is illegal, so vendors often suggest donations ranging from $10 to $20. Like the other vendors, Iorillo and his friend Tyler Lauletta had been distributing the unauthorized campaign souvenirs to supporters for months.
The friends are the admins of the popular Twitter account @yaboyberniesand, and have been selling merchandise linked with the account online and at other events. After costs are covered, the proceeds go to the Sanders campaign.
The Twitter account started as a parody, but now has over 35,000 followers. Iorillo plans to keep it going to help influence the Democratic platform, even if Sanders doesn’t make it to the general election.
“We are trying to figure out how to like keep the momentum going,” Iorillo said. “We just wanna make something good.”
Other vendors were indifferent to the candidate whose face and slogans were emblazoned on the shirts and buttons they were selling.
“I voted for Ted Cruz,” 20-year-old Garret O’Daniel said. “Sometimes we’ll be like ‘yeah I’m a Bernie supporter,’ but right now I’m not voting for Hillary, so it’s either Bernie or Trump.”
O’Daniel and his high school friend Alex Vaughn say the chance to travel the country and the big cash payouts are what brought them to the rally — not political convictions. O’Daniel estimates they make over $10,000 a month each, 10 times what he was making back home in Missouri at his minimum wage job. However, this rally is proving to be less lucrative than normal.
“Republicans spend much more than Democrats,” Vaughn said.
Along with O’Daniel and Vaughn, a woman who said her name was Kathy, and who didn’t want her last name used, said she drove from another event in San Diego the previous night and hardly slept at all. On the road for about a year with a few scattered breaks, she was excited to return home for her son’s high school graduation in a few days.
“It’s a whole subculture,” Kathy said, noting that she knows most of the other vendors at the political events, regardless of the candidate.
Being a traveling salesperson has its challenges, Kathy noted.
“You don’t wanna get kicked out and the campaign doesn’t want you kicked out,” she said. “We’re not endorsed by the campaign, but the campaign (wants) us to be out here so that people are wearing their Bernie swag.”
Bill and Zefra Wyatt, owners of Los Angeles-based store Y-Que Trading Post, said the campaign’s support isn’t enough to avoid scrutiny from authorities. On this day, Bill Wyatt said, police refused to give them a permit because of their controversial designs, like shirts decorated with the words “Fuck Trump” or “Trumpacobra.”
“Normally it’s a push back, then you go set it up again, then you go back, then you bring it in again.” he said. “So it’s a whole game… After a while, the cops leave us alone, he said.”
Another trick of the trade, said Wyatt, is positioning tables near hot dog carts that can act as a buffer between merchandise vendors and authorities. Since concern over health code violations outweigh inappropriate T-shirt slogans, vendors can get away with bending the rules, but Wyatt had the bad luck to be selling on a day when the hotdog carts never appeared.
“If there’s good hot dog carts, there’s a good sales environment,” he said. “As the cops come, they start trailing away and you see a whole line of ‘em. It looks like a parade of hot dog carts.”
When night fell, the temperature and T-shirt prices fell with it. Shouting out offers of “three for 20,” vendors made their last few attempts, just as Sanders did, to get the attention of California voters.