“Mad people make the best stuff,” Jon Grinspan, curator of political history at the Smithsonian, tells me on March 10, as voters in six states are going to the polls. Anti–Establishment candidates inspire more handmade paraphernalia, he explains, like tees, hats, and beer koozies. This was true for Bernie Sanders in 2016, and the offerings have expanded this time around. Designer and illustrator Nicole Ginelli, whose bright-pink “Bernie” graphic written in the Barbie font went viral during the last election cycle for combating the “Bernie Bro” stereotype, is delighted that the market is more saturated. Especially now, there’s something by and for every kind of Berner out there, whether you’re a Grateful Dead fan, or feel the force of Baby Bernie Yoda, or just find Sanders rendered as a cactus kind of cute. Photos of a young Bernie Sanders are also popular. (But not too young — he’s still got to be recognizable.) One friend, feeling a sense of urgency to show her support for Sanders before voting in New York in April, bought a “Rage Against the Machine” T-shirt with the senator’s 1991 congressional photo on it to tide her over until her official Bernie x The Strokes one arrived (it took almost a month).
Sonya Sombreuil, the artist and founder of the L.A.-based clothing label Come Tees, who created the “Rage Against the Machine” shirt earlier this year, describes herself as previously having a “lifelong aversion to mainstream politics.” But she’s raised over $90,000 in sales for the Sanders campaign so far, and had to hire a lawyer to figure out how to donate it legally. The tee started as a one-off Christmas present for her boyfriend, who works for the campaign. When she decided to start selling them for $40 apiece on her website, the model and proud Sanders supporter Emily Ratajkowski was an early customer, and they quickly rose to the top of the pile. Ratajkowski didn’t initially tag Come Tees on Instagram, but, Sombreuil says, it’s fine. “It belongs to the people,” she declared. “That’s what I really believe in.”
Will “Rage Against the Machine” make it into the Smithsonian alongside “Make America Great Again”? “While I still know all the words to ‘Bombtrack,’ people in 2120 might be less familiar,” says Grinspan.
*This article appears in the March 16, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!