Where were you from noon to 12:45 on Monday? While many from the neighborhood were at offices and work sites more than a lunch-time jaunt away from the epicenter, and at least several probably still in bed, Capitol Hill was host to a public visit by a US president for the first time to speak of since, well, we don’t know. Despite the time slot, an estimated 400 people streamed through Elliot Bay Book Co. to get a presidential signature in their copy of Jimmy Carter’s latest book, A Call to Action: Women, Violence and Religion, released last Tuesday, and to have a chance to meet Number 39.
“This is my 28th book, and it’s the most important book I’ve ever written,” the former US president told CHS. “It’s about the horrible abuse of girls and women around the world, including in the United States, so I hope we see some kind of good from it,” he said. An outspoken Christian and “lay minister” from Georgia who turns 90 years-old in October, Carter served as president from 1977 through 1981. In the years since, Carter has gained greater esteem in the eyes of many for his work along with wife Rosalynn at the Carter Center for Human Rights.
A cadre of police cars along with a firetruck and ambulance parked outside Elliott Bay midday Monday, many of their would-be occupants standing by or standing guard on the sidewalk, was just enough of a scene to draw attention.
It wasn’t James Earl Carter’s first visit to Seattle. “I like to come back here,” Carter said. “I’ve come here for many times, and it’s a beautiful city, to deal with Boeing, to deal with Microsoft, to deal with Google, and so forth. And I have been here several times to sell books,” he said.
For about 45-minutes, starting at noon, the President sat at a plain wooden desk that took up a large portion of an alcove just beyond the landing of the central stairs leading to the loft level from Elliot Bay’s main floor. He spent most of his time signing books, sometimes individually, and in his most impressive moments, when the line got thick, going rapid-scribe on clusters. In either case, the president exchanged brief greetings and words with each book purchaser as they approached the desk to receive their newly signed copies and stand next to an ex-president — and gosh-darn-it if he didn’t flash a warm-eyed smile, big or small, at every, single, person who came through.
Carter used some down time, as the line temporarily lulled after about 30 minutes, to have a conversation with a local activist, and also to give a short interview. The rate, CHS figures, was somewhere around ten to twelve books per minute of time spent signing, or around five to six seconds per person on average.
Carter gave CHS examples of injustice against women that might be particularly relevant to the lives of younger and upcoming generations in the US today. “There’s a lot of sexual abuse on campuses, colleges campuses, and also in the military, and discrimination against women as far as equal pay is concerned, equal job opportunities,” Carter said. “And we have a terrible amount of sexual slavery in this country, where women are sold in slavery, about 100,00 a year, the State Department says.” Does he think future generations will be able to alleviate the prevalence of such horrible problems? “If they know about it,” Carter said. Carter noted that in the back of ‘A Call to Action‘ he lists 23 things people in this country can do. “Just look down the list and try to find something that appeals to you most, and try to do it,” he said.
While it may not have been the biggest turnout ever seen for a booksigning event at Elliott Bay’s 10th Ave space since the store moved up from Pioneer Square — Annie Liebowitz in the winter of 2011 for one seems to have drawn a distinctly larger number — the presidential visit produced a notable crowd. At one point, a line that started at the stairs leading to the north side of the book store’s loft level snaked through the cafe around the corner and out to the main floor, where it stretched almost to the registers near the entrance. It was a friendly but rushed affair for most once they got to Carter, however, and no photos ops with the President or custom note requests were allowed.
“It’s really fast,” one attendee said of the experience. Nonetheless, the enthusiastic Carter fan from Portland had time for a brief exchange with the President, bedecked as he was in what very well may have been the day’s only thematic outfit. He was also in town for Emerald City Comicon, it turned out.
“He said he liked the shirt,” Josh said, who confirmed he was a “big Carter fan.” “I love his policies, and I just love what he’s done since he’s become, since he left office basically.”
“I was born the year he left office, so I didn’t get to see him [as acting President], unfortunately,” he said. Josh said he doesn’t share Carter’s Christian faith, but admires the way the former president applies his religious beliefs. “I like that his faith inspires him to do good works, rather than be intolerant, like so many other people do,” he said.
Josh’s Jimmy Carter t-shirt featured a cartoon of Carter riding a peanut as if it were a rocket amid patriotic colors in a design that smacked of a NASA logo — “President Jimmy Carter,” the shirt read, “He’ll show us what to do.”