This week's Olympic torch relay is expected to attract thousands of tourists to San Francisco. It's also expected to attract thousands of protesters (including actor Richard Gere) denouncing China's human-rights abuses. While everyone always talks about the money tourism pumps into the local economy, we got to wondering: How about the throngs of protesters with disposable cash? Someone must be making money off them, too, right?
"Any event that brings people to San Francisco is going to be good ultimately for the economic base of the city," said David Perry, the city's spokesman for the official Olympic event. "This is a capitalist society. I'm sure there are people making all kinds of T-shirts and tchotchkes, authorized or not."
After making a few calls, it quickly became clear that protesters, on the whole, are not big spenders. While the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition got a package deal on 50 hotel rooms for its traveling supporters, Tibetan protesters were arranging home stays with locals. The organizers of the Nude Torch Relay, meanwhile, understandably won't be spending a cent on clothes. They constructed their four-foot torch with $12 worth of materials from an art supply shop, and will be slathering themselves with $1.25 worth of baby oil, to mimic the Ancient Olympians who covered their bodies with olive oil. At least the Burmese American Democratic Alliance didn't pinch pennies to make a statement: The group paid Castro Valley-based Aerial Services $2,450 to fly a "Free Burma" banner so it's visible from the Embarcadero during the torch relay.
The plane bit is rivaled perhaps only by the advertising for the Human Rights Torch Relay in Union Square last Saturday on the sides of MUNI buses and a prime billboard spot visible from the Bay Bridge near the Fifth Street exit.
As far as selling tchotchkes, before Saturday's alternative relay we spotted a dude hawking "Free Tibet" T-shirts out of a rolling suitcase. The design superimposed a face inspired by Edvard Munch's The Scream onto the Beijing Olympics' dancing human logo, adding some Chinese police pointing guns for effect. The man said he had sold a few on Craigslist for $20 each, but was having trouble hustling them at the rally.
"No, I'm a Communist: two dollars," one potential buyer said, trying to haggle. When his deal was denied, he mumbled something about the shirts probably being made in China anyways.