No Longer in the White House, a Young Carter Rediscovers the Importance of Being Amy

updated 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

The bare porch and scruffy sofa don't necessarily signal hard times for Amy Carter, once America's First Kid and now, at 19, a Brown University sophomore. The spare accommodations merely symbolize her preferred life-style in an off-campus housing cooperative in Providence. Though one and a half presidential terms have elapsed since she last cavorted in tree house on the White House grounds, Amy still is game to go out on a limb. At a time when careerism is said to be rampant among college students, she earnestly espouses a whole spectrum of liberal causes—against apartheid and aid to the contras, pro-choice on abortion—often with rhetorical flourishes reminiscent of the campus rebellions of two decades gone by. "We're getting closer every day to a national college network of young activists," she says excitedly. In all, she has accumulated three police arrests as badges of her commitment.

Her latest scrape with the authorities came in November, when she joined students from Brown and other schools to reinforce demonstrators at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They were there to protest campus recruiting by the CIA. After the students occupied a building for seven hours, police in riot gear moved in. Amy insists that political martyrdom was not on her agenda, "but when it all came down, the police just started dragging people away. A friend of mine was brutalized, kicked in the groin, jabbed in the stomach," she claims. "We were resisting peaceably, just going limp. They picked out a few to arrest, and I was one." (Among 58 others arrested: veteran activist Abbie Hoffman.) For her troubles Amy spent six hours in a holding pen and is due in court on Jan. 7 to answer a disorderly person charge. The matter can be dispatched with a small fine, but Amy is among those who have vowed to interrupt her Christmas break to take her case to trial and thus generate another round of press coverage.

Amy is ambivalent about such publicity. It irks her that "the media tends to spotlight me—and not what I'm doing and not the people who really did it." Still she knows that even small acts of civil disobedience by the daughter of an ex-President can—and do—elevate a local news item into national headlines, and that sort of notoriety serves to dramatize her causes.

At Brown she finds shelter on a tolerant Ivy League campus where the protection of individual privacy among the 7,000-plus students is practically a point of honor. There she has taken courses in, among other subjects, anthropology, art and archaeology but, oddly, none in political science. She has not picked a major but is leaning, she says, toward women's studies. She is given to sudden, spontaneous laughter, but a friend says "that's not because she doesn't take things seriously. Amy takes everything seriously."

She is careful to make clear that her politics are her own and may not always reflect those of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter of Plains, Ga. So far the phone calls to and from home have been "the normal parent-kid stuff," she says, with few complaints. "My parents raised me to do what I think I should do, what I think is right, and that's the bottom line. Unless it is something they think is totally off the wall, they won't criticize me for wanting to do it."

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