Recount: A Magazine of Contemporary Politics

Making a Quick Buck While Disarming Bush

By Riva Froymovich | Oct 27, 2004 Print

Ysiad Ferreiras’ mom was “pretty pissed” when her 19-year-old son dropped his full scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania to pursue his aspirations of becoming a masseuse.

“But things are pretty different now,” Ferreiras said mockingly. Although his mother can no longer brag about the Ivy League education, he supposed, appearing in Time, The Roots’ new music video, and on the cover of Revolver magazine will do just fine.

One year after abandoning hopes of graduating with a degree in systems engineering, Ferreiras is a self-made entrepreneur and the creator of a veritable street-selling empire. He is president of Disarm Bush, the unconventional political brand that vends T-shirts, bumper stickers, and pins in urban centers and college campuses across the United States while registering voters and advancing an anti-President Bush message. 

“I’m just a random kid,” Ferreiras said, who started the business to pay his way through massage school. Today, “It’s pretty hard to walk in the downtown [Manhattan] area without seeing somebody wearing the shirt or button.”

The Bronx native designed the Disarm Bush icon—an image of President Bush with the universal “not allowed” symbol over his face—and began what he calls, “a pretty simple operation.” Ferreiras started selling T-shirts off a hand truck, first by walking the streets of Philadelphia, and then New York. As the products grew more popular, he hired employees to help.

Then, he had to hire some more.

Ben Piven, 21, has been with the organization from its roots and acts as director of public relations and national distributor.  “I was just sort of lucky to be in New York, and lucky to happen upon Ysiad,” Piven said. The clash between New York’s traditionally liberal environment and the impending National Republican Convention “made New York the perfect spot to takeoff.”

The political activist now nationally distributes the products from his basement, all for the cause. “People wearing the shirt demonstrate that they’re down for the cause,” Piven said.

Ferreiras recognized a place in the market for a product with political dimensions, specifically ones that call for giving Bush the boot. A poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that in university communities, Disarm Bush’s core target, President Bush’s job approval rating among college students has fallen from 61 percent to 47 percent.

The company has tallied 21,000 T-shirts and 20,000 buttons—$10 and $2, respectively—sold as of Oct. 1, generating well over a quarter million dollars.

Also, Ferreiras’ operation has registered over 5,000 voters, many of whom vow to disarm Bush.

“There are nonprofits who [didn’t] register as many as we did,” Ferreiras bragged.

The figures represent the work of vendors who prowl the streets and man the corners. These sellers include high school students, activists, and people just in need of a job, who can rake in up to $300 a day.

“High school kids are making more than $2,000 a week,” Ferreiras said.

There are up to 14 employees just in New York, according to high school senior and managing vendor Dharampaul Gopal.  He joined the outfit because he needed a summer job, and now has a crew of employees that answer to him.

Gopal was recently issued a summons for selling the T-shirts without a permit. He alleges that the company is free to sell the T-shirts on the street as a freedom of speech right, similar to booksellers, confirmed by the Department of Consumer Affairs. According to law, products bearing political or editorial messages qualify under free speech.

When he appeared at court, the case was immediately dismissed.

“I waited three hours for a thirty-second trial,” Gopal said.

Ferreiras claims that he could have sold three times as many shirts, “If I knew when I started this thing about management and dealing with factories.”

Although sales have slowed down in New York since the Republican National Convention, buyers flood vending stands in each new city introduced to Disarm Bush. If the president is re-elected, they anticipate selling the products internationally. However, the Disarm Bush political hope is otherwise.

Disarm Bush is not aligned with any organization, but it promotes groups such as United for Peace and Justice as well as Music for America. Their merchandise is sold in New York, Philadelphia, Tallahassee, Miami, Berkeley and San Francisco, among others. Also, the team is working towards distribution on the University of Maryland and Princeton University campuses.

As the election nears, Ferreiras’ only regret is that he wasn’t as experienced in mass organization to register more voters. 

Nevertheless, the T-shirt appearances in the media have boosted the determination of the anti-Bush campaign. Moreover, the spots in outlets like USA Today and Village Voice have strengthened Ferreiras’ business enterprise. “The amount of money I made doing this is more than I ever expected,” he said.

As the ambitious post-teen contemplates his next move with Disarm Bush, one thing is certain. His massage school tuition is covered.

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