We're children of the '80s, Haven't we grown, Tender as a lotus and tougher than stone . . .

Joan Baez sits in her room at the Tabard Inn and sings in a voice crisp and strong and clear, a survivor of the '60s. The voice, that is. The woman, too, one supposes. For here she is, the beacon of the '60s, singing a new song and talking up a new cause and acting wise about Washington.

She went to the State Department Thursday to talk about human rights in Latin America, where she traveled for three weeks in late spring. She got half an hour with Thomas Enders, assistant secretary for inter-American affairs. "Certainly I had questions," she says. "I had massive disagreements. We don't want to see human rights disintegrate with this administration."

But she played it businesslike and low-key -- the '80s format. "I didn't go in flailing the Sandinista flag, in high boots," she says.

"You should have seen me in my little fruit suit -- executive dressing. Hill clothes. I can only take it for about three or four days."

After Enders, she spoke at the State Department Open Forum. "That was easier," she says. "A lot of young people. One guy stood up and said, 'You know, most of us were in the Peace Corps.'"

But two people fell asleep in the front row. Worse, the second question to her was: "Are you going to sing today?" "I said, 'I'm going to ignore the second question,' says Baez, the face a little tired, the eyes unsurprised and unoffended.

"And then at the end I sang a nice little song, unaccompanied, that I used to sing with Martin Luther King, 'Pilgrim of Sorrow.' Well, you don't want to make people feel bad about asking to hear you sing. and it woke up the two guys in the front row. I don't know why they sat in the front row if they felt a nap coming on. I finished with 'Amen,' and said, 'Say hello to Haig for me.'"

She is 40 now, and that's okay. "It's better than when I was 38 and worried about being 40."

"I remember when you were 38," says Jeanne Murphy, who runs Humanitas, the human rights organization that Baez started and who is traveling with her. "You were at the cambodian border."

This year it was South America. In Chile, she says, "We got kicked out of the hotel, we got bomb threats that turned out to be bombs."

In Brazil, the police came to her hotel room right before a concert. "They told me, 'You don't have the proper papers -- number X73-92 and you can't sing here,'" she says.

"In Argentina, we went to a mass for five families of disappeared people. It was so sad. This was supposed to be a way for them to finally recognize they would probably never see their children again.They asked me to sing and I just about died ," she says. "Of all the performances in my life, it was one of the most difficult. You can't sing and cry at the same time. They were saying, 'Adios, adios, adios' for their children. I just grit my teeth and go on remote and sing. If singing helps them in their sorrow, then why not do it?"

Throughout her trip, she says, "I very much wanted to be arrested. It would clarify how bad the situation is. It wouldn't jeopardize me I would have spent the night in some unpleasant place. Then I'd go back to California."

In Washington, a place she says she could never live, she reflects on the rites of power. "Everybody's so preoccupied," she says. "Nobody in the world should have to think about that much. Everybody above the eensiest rank has a phone ringing constantly and an aide doing this or that. Actually, the aides are good. And if an aide likes you, you might get back in to talk to someone."

This is Joan Baez talking. Joan Baez, who sang with King in Mississippi, who sang for the Cambodian boat people and the Vietnamese, who refused to pay 60 percent of her income tax because she thought the money would go to the war effort. "If an aide likes you, you might get back in to talk to someone."

A lot of her friends are apolitical, she admits readily. "It can't bother you," she shrugs. "There'll be new people."

She has a concert tonight at the Warner Theatre, but she has spent most of the last four years singing in europe, where the average age of her audiences was about 22. They all wanted to hear '60s music. We like the music of the '60s, We think those times must have been Nifty . . .

Her son, "CHildren of the '80s," is the theme song of an entire album she's writing. "It includes one about Lady Di," she says with an impish smile.

"I was doing Phil Donahue, and a woman asked, 'Miss Baez,'" she recalles, imitating a high nasal voice, 'Is there anything about this country you do like? I said, 'sure. Coming from Latin America I was very aware of my human rights here.' We grumble that we can't get this or that done, but we don't have weird people dropping bombs down chimneys here. It makes me doubly question why we have these countries for friends."

Yes, she nods, she thinks she's taken seriously."I think," she says, "that people finally do realize that I've been consistent."