The bright lights, the ringing and clanging and the smell of fried food at Dave & Buster's are dizzying, but Eric Bidwell calmly strolls down the walkway and finds his way to the corporate-event room, his long, thick dreadlocks bouncing lightly against his back.
“Sign in here and add languages to your nametag over there,” says the check-in lady.
Bidwell makes himself a nametag and heads over to a small table covered with sheets of stickers with words on them like “php,” “flex,” “AJAX” and “SEO.” By languages, the lady means computer languages, which is appropriate when you're at the San Diego March Mingle, an annual techie meet-up sponsored by Adobe.
“These are cute,” says Bidwell. “I like these.” He picks three stickers—“SEO,” “Mac” and “usability”—then scans his surroundings. The people in the room are two things to Bidwell—potential information sources from whom he can learn new things about web technology and potential constituents. He just got word a few days ago that the 200 signatures he submitted to the San Diego City Clerk were valid and he's officially on the 2008 ballot as a candidate for mayor.
Bidwell blows by the free buffet—he had already eaten—eyeballs the OLPC someone's showing off (a miniature and affordable laptop designed by the One Laptop Per Child program) and heads for a chair in a back corner. With a light bouncing off the red velvet curtain hanging beside him and casting a red aura onto his wrinkle-free, 25-year-old handsome and hopeful face, Bidwell makes steady eye contact with people and says things like, “I'm really upset at the state of electronics.”
For Bidwell, everything has the potential to be better.
Bidwell looks like what you might call a hippie. It's more than just the dreads. He wears the same clothing again and again. He splits his time between his old Dodge van, his bright aqua motor home and his girlfriend's house, admittedly smokes a little weed, refuses to get a fulltime job and hangs out at coffeehouses. But the guy stands for a lot more than just peace and love.
A better word to describe Bidwell might be “revolutionary.” In fact, he tried to get the City Clerk to list his occupation on the ballot as “fulltime revolutionary” but was told it was too vague. He settled for “entrepreneur” instead.
Bidwell is a bit of an entrepreneur. Sure, he finds side jobs here and there on craigslist and pulls in about $500 a month to cover the cost of living—which doesn't include rent since he's never paid rent in his entire life—but mostly he busies himself and even makes a little money by selling what he calls “a lifestyle.”
It started as a simple stencil he jacked from crimthinc.com, an anarchist website. It was a crude image of Bush, to which he added a thought bubble and the word “Oops!” He cut out the image in cardboard and started stenciling it onto T-shirts.
“We were spraying the shirts on the tailgate of my friend's truck outside of Lestat's [Coffeehouse],” Bidwell recalls, “and people just started buying them, so I was, like, Huh, I can make money this way.”
But Bidwell wasn't interested in making money off any old cutesy shirt. He's the kind of guy who likes to wear his hardest of hardcore beliefs on his sleeves—or his chest.
“I remember one night sitting down and being pissed that there were no really poignant, political, describe-my-feelings kind of shirts,” he continues. “They were all, like, ‘Drink Your Java, it's a Jungle Out There' silliness, and I just thought, You know, I'm not the only one who believes these things.”
After selling T-shirts on a small scale for some time, Bidwell taught himself how to build a website and created berevolutionary.com. He eventually crossed paths with Shepard Fairey, the famous street artist who plastered the world with his Obey Giant images, and he got increasingly interested in the type of guerilla marketing that Fairey mastered. Then Bidwell met Marc Horowitz, the San Francisco photographer who included his phone number on a dry-erase board in a shot for Crate & Barrel and turned his more than 3,000 calls from strangers into a nationwide publicity stunt, and Bidwell started seeing how simple images can reach millions and open up a direct line of communication.
Through the powers of MySpace, Twitter and, eventually, a social networking site he plans to build that will be geared specifically toward the activist/atheist/anarchist set, Bidwell enlarged his web presence and continues connecting with young anti-establishment types around the world every day. About a year-and-a-half ago, he took his marketing tactics to the streets, literally, and set up a monthly Revolutionary Potluck, which is held the first Saturday of every month in a park in Old Town. And, of course, he meets strangers every day in coffeehouses across San Diego, his makeshift office.
Sitting in his motor home, wearing one of his own T-shirts—one that depicts a pair of hands passing cash under a table and the words “America: The Finest Country Money Can Buy”—Bidwell says he thinks he actually has a pretty good chance of becoming mayor. “I feel like I'm just as much a candidate as the rest of them,” he says, comparing the race and its contestants to the “Giant Douche vs. Turd Sandwich” episode of South Park. But he says the endeavor is also a pretty good experiment in the whole grassroots/Internet marketing thing. Bidwell is just as interested in the visual presentation of his campaign as he is in the planks in his platform. The Union-Tribune recently put together an online site comparing all the candidates. Bidwell was stoked on how it turned out—visually, that is.
“I'm very proud of my headshot,” Bidwell says. “My really creepy one. I touched it up a little more; it looks a little better. You can see my hair a little bit better, but there's that one of me and then all these old men in the middle of doing something like video grabs. They're horrible; it's so funny. Each issue, if you pick an issue, has our headshots and our answers and I'm always at the top because my last name starts with a “B”—totally cool—and then there's Steve Francis' headshot, which is horrible. It's cropped to his nose and his jowl, and he's sideways, and you can see his double chin and pock marks and it's just, like, this guy is a millionaire saying that he's not even going to take money if he becomes mayor, and the fucker can't even get a decent headshot? I'm just blown away.”
Bidwell's campaign slogan, too, was just as much about the words as it was about the typeface.
“I learned more about fonts than I ever wanted to know,” he says, “but I ended up settling on the simple Helvetica, but it has a screwy ‘r'.” Bidwell reaches into his cargo-pants pockets and pulls out a stack of his campaign stickers.
“See, I switched the ‘r' to a different font.”
After the typeface was settled, Bidwell decided on the slogan: “Vote Revolution.”
You can see some of Eric Bidwell's imagery in an art show at Cream, 4496 Park Blvd. in University Heights, or meet him at his Revolutionary Potluck at noon on Saturday, April 5. Find out more by visiting www.revolutionarymayor.com.