CLEVELAND, Ohio -- In this city currently overflowing with communists, corporatists, socialists and anarchists, all competing to get their messages across, the one ideology that is winning hands-down on the streets of Cleveland is capitalism.
With thousands of people in town for the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump will accept the GOP’s presidential nomination tonight, sidewalks in Cleveland are packed with vendors standing shoulder-to-shoulder, hawking an endless array of t-shirts, hats, buttons and tchotchkes.
And it takes only a stroll down Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue to see capitalism laid out in all its warty glory. Vendors enjoying wild success hustle busily between customers, just a few feet away from dejected counterparts holding inventory they can’t move.
And, of course, there’s complaining about government regulations interfering with the ability to turn a profit.
Terry Jones looked down angrily at a table stacked with silk-screened t-shirts of his own design.
“Let me tell you what they did: They put us down in the boondocks, right?” he said, gesturing down the street to where city officials had originally made him put his table. “I was over there. I didn’t make any money -- I’ve got 2,000 t-shirts to get rid of.”
Looking to his left and right, he said, “Everybody that’s over here should have a Zone A badge,” he said, holding out the lanyard around his neck with an official-looking document stamped with the city seal and folded into a plastic pouch.
Many of the vendors around him, he claimed, did not have the proper documents to be selling merchandise where they were, he said.
“The city of Cleveland checked us one time,” he complained. “Now I’m sitting here and I’m giving away my product, and Mayor Jackson is going to hear from me.”
Nearby, another vendor said, by contrast, that he was doing pretty well, with knock-off versions of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat as particularly hot sellers.
Suddenly he looked sharply down the street at an approaching van. “My boss is here, so we gotta --” and made a slashing motion across his throat before turning to an elderly man pawing through Trump merchandise. “Hello sir, how are ya?”
The reality of the street vendor scene, explained one seller who asked to be identified only by his first name, David, is that it’s part legitimate business and part underground economy. Many of the people doing the selling -- like the guy who hopped back to work at the sight of his boss -- are acting as off-the-books employees for people higher up the chain who manage five or more vending locations.
“You have to understand, some of these gentlemen have five tables that they manage all over the city,” he said. “These are experienced street vendors and they do this all over the country.”
At an event like the RNC, he said, “They may bring in $20,000. After they pay for their merchandise, pay all their guys and any related expenses, they’ll clear maybe $10,000. Fifty-percent margin, maybe a little more.”
So how was it going for David?
He looked dejectedly down at an almost-full box of “official” Donald Trump campaign posters.
“I think I misjudged my market,” he admitted. He said that he had sold a huge number of similar items at the Democratic convention when Barack Obama was nominated in 2008. “You would think it would be similar,” he said ruefully, acknowledging that, in fact, it wasn’t.
But for every disappointed vendor, there was someone else making money hand over fist.
Just down the street, Siddiq Mumin, clad in a garish red, white and blue vest and top hat combination, agreed to hold still for a picture, but immediately leapt out of the frame to take the money offered by a customer who wanted to buy a Donald Trump t-shirt.
How’s business? “Good. It’s good,” he said breathlessly, before darting off in another direction.