The first event on Hillary Clinton’s book-tour-slash-2016-launch had everything you’d want from a political rally. There were stickers, volunteers in t-shirts, curious onlookers, supporters, hyperactive reporters, and a brief, tightly-managed appearance from the candidate herself. It was lacking only two things. The first was energy. The second was a campaign.
By 1:30, the book signing at New York's Union Square Barnes and Noble was essentially over. The barricades were removed; the area cordoned-off for the people who'd been waiting overnight was empty save an enthusiastic supporter who claimed to have been invited by the candidate and a bedraggled poster of Clinton herself
The word "organized" came up a lot from people who were still trickling out of the bookstore, hours after they'd gotten in line. It's New York City, so the absence of chaos is often notable, but this was a bit different in tone. Impressed. Surprised. People flowed to the fourth floor and, provided they observed the strict constraints governing the interaction (no personal items allowed, no memorabilia to be signed), met the former senator and had her sign a book. And then back downstairs in discrete drops, where they described the whole thing to me.
"It was very smooth," said Shane Doyle, who — fair warning — is the only one who could steal his friend Craig Smyth's vote away from Hillary. "It was well organized," said Claire Speciner. (She's heard that there were Secret Service people there.) That's the deal: Wait in line, follow the rules, and the process gives you what you want. (Hillary's signature, black ink, no extra message.)
Speciner supported Hillary in 2008, but wasn't getting the book for herself. "I have a daughter and a granddaughter, and this book is for them." That was similar to the motivation of Rosemary Jordan. She came to collect paraphernalia for "her dear mother-in-law" who was alive during the Franklin Roosevelt administration. "She said, 'If I'm still alive and there's a woman in office, it would be thrilling.'"
Jian Xiao brought her six-year-old son Lucas out from Long Island. She and Lucas did a bit of research on the internet on Monday night. First, they read Hillary's bio for kids and then Googled "What does a president do for the country?" Lucas was too shy to say "thank you" to Clinton in Chinese as they'd planned, but he otherwise said the experience was "good." (He was also in possession of a new Minecraft action figure which seemed to occupy more of his attention than the book / possible future president.) Xiao came in part because she was worried about Hillary's physical stamina. "She looks more energetic," Xiao said. "One of my concerns is if she would physically be able to compete. ... After today, I think she is more than capable of doing that."
Xiao and Speciner and a lot of people were wearing "Ready for Hillary" stickers, passed out by staffers from the nearby bus that the pro-Clinton organization had sponsored. Like a political lawn sign, though, the stickers didn't always convey an actual readiness for Hillary. Laura Roberts had stopped by the bookstore over her lunch break to see if she could see Clinton. She had a sticker, but said she doesn't necessarily support Clinton. "I'm generally a Republican, but I'm interested in learning more" — including "definitely" planning to read Hillary's book.
This being New York and this being Union Square, an entrepreneur who wished only to be identified as Malik was selling t-shirts and bags championing a Clinton candidacy. He said he'd sold about 175 shirts at ten dollars a piece, a nice little profit, though I didn't see anyone wearing one. He assured me that he wasn't only doing it for financial benefit, but that he donates part of the proceeds to Ready For Hillary. This could not immediately be verified.
This being New York and this being Union Square, the crowd that came trickling out of the store was diverse. An immigrant from West Africa. Older white men. Several young families. The head of the college Democrats at Washington University, St. Louis. And so on.
Another college student, Carina Cappello, took advantage of her time with Hillary to ask the question we'd love to have (officially) answered. Cappello is a political science student who's read an article in which Clinton said she would run if she felt that she had the vision and capability to lead America. "And so I said, 'Do you think you have the vision and capability?' And she said, 'If I decide to run, yes.'" (Cappello's friend Aliciea Dawn Suechin assured me that they were only willing to wait in line for hours because Hillary is a political figure and that they would "never do it for a celebrity figure or artist or actor or whatever.") Marie-Louise Schonewille, a tourist from the Netherlands, got a less oblique answer to a similar comment. "I wished her good luck with her campaigning, and she said, 'I appreciate that.'" So there you have it.
By about 1:30, the Ready For Hillary bus started to pack up. (The group's communications director, Seth Bringman, said that the number of people who'd signed up was "definitely in the hundreds.") The sidewalk in front of the store was largely clear; small clusters of people waited across the street, speculating about when the senator might emerge. No one knew, no one would say. But everyone knew it would happen, and they wanted to be there to see it.