Stick it: political messages draw some sneers

By Matt Liebowitz, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday July 06, 2002

For the past seven years Russell Bates — The Human Bumper Sticker — has been a fixture on Telegraph Avenue.  

On three tables between Bancroft and Durant avenues, Bates sells an array of poignant, humorous and often controversial bumper stickers.  

Some of the stickers advocate earth-friendly or peaceful messages such as “Non-Judgement Day is Near.” Others use irony to urge consciousness, like “HMO Phobic.” Bates’ favorites are “Don’t Believe Everything You Think,” and “Bush, The Only Dope Worth Shooting.” 

Many of Bates’ stickers carry controversial messages, something Bates is entirely comfortable with despite opposition. 

He says since he’s come out in support of Palestine amid the conflict in the Middle East, and has gotten death threats, hate mail and verbal abuse for it. 

“At first I took the threats seriously,” Bates said. “But most of the time it’s people shooting off their mouths.” 

One group offended by the pro-Palestinian stickers was the Zionists who organized boycotts of Bates’ stand. At first, sales went down because of it. But not for long. 

“People will always find something to harass me about,” he said. 

Despite his often unpopular stance on the Middle East, Bates says his position remains firm.  

“I’ve made my stand, these people realize it,” he said. “And I’m not going to change my mind.” 

A “Free Palestine” sticker and a Palestinian flag hang on Bates’ table.  

“One guy asked me if I support terrorist governments,” Bates said. “I said ‘No, I don’t support the Israeli government at all.’ ”  

Though he encounters a good amount of opposition, not all of his encounters end with verbal abuse aimed at him. 

He often has intelligent, civil conversations with Israelis and supporters of the Israeli government who take offense to the words on his stickers. 

Many of the Israeli supporters who approach him “sound like they’re coming straight from the embassy,” Bates said. “The mainstream media is the only way people get their information, and that results in a high chance that certain facts are overlooked.”  

A Berkeley resident since 1973, Bates sold the stickers for 18 years with a partner before setting up his own stand. 

Though Bates himself designs some of his stickers, most are manufactured and sent from a company with branches in the East coast, Midwest and Arcada California. Bates sells them for two dollars each, or three for five dollars.  

Bates sees Berkeley as an ideal place for his work.  

“It could work on the East coast,” Bates said, “but patriotism has run amok out there, and I’m no patriot.”