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Our world is a loud place.

Social media rants, talk radio tirades and cable news bluster make for an endless clatter of opinions. Everyone has a voice. It’s a shame we don’t have more ears.

Or pin-back buttons. Or better yet, more button makers like Christen Carter.

Christen Carter

Christen Carter, button historian, author, and button maker. 

Over the past twenty-five years, Carter and her Busy Beaver Button Company in Chicago have made more than 50 million buttons for bands, artists, campaigns of all kinds and just about anyone looking to connect. That’s saying a lot, without making a lot of noise.

The button, by its very nature, is a big idea in a small package. It’s something people literally stand behind. But more than anything, the button makes a point without yelling. My ears appreciate that.

“People who order buttons are trying to build community in some way,” Carter explains. “In my mind, that’s the most basic thing.

“So the question is, who are they trying to build community with and how are they trying to build it? The fact that people are using design and messaging means they have to distill their ideas. Get down to the basics yet still be interesting enough to engage people.”

The process involves thought, not decibels. Something Carter deeply cares about.

“It’s an honor to be in a hub of people trying to make some sort of change. They’re ordering buttons because they want something to happen. The sacred work of what we do is help people realize these things and help them spread their message.”

Question: When was the last time you talked with someone about their job and they used words like “sacred” and “honor” to describe what they do? Yeah, me neither. That is until I talked with Carter, who, along with Ted Hake, just published the immensely informative and entertaining book Button Power: 125 Years of Saying It with Buttons.



But I wanted to get back to something else Carter does, which is running the Button Museum in Chicago.

“We get a lot of donations,” Carter says. “People give us their life through buttons.”

One such donation came from a social justice nun from Detroit who was active from the 1960s through the 1980s. “So all of the social justice campaigns through those thirty years are reflected in her collection,” Carter says. “What a huge honor to share her buttons and life with other people. It’s just really beautiful.”

The nun’s buttons reflect a life of movement. Of fighting the good fight. Of cause. They speak volumes without the need for amplification.

“I almost feel there are only two places you can stand right now,” Carter says “Everyone is so busy taking a position. The problem is we’re not recognizing our similarities.

“Having a button company, I constantly ask how can we be part of a uniting force, just seeing the humanity in each other.”

Sometimes it starts with a one-inch button. And that leads to sharing, not shouting, something buttons and Carter do well.