There was Peter Yarrow, looking much more silver-haired than one would remember him from his Peter, Paul and Mary days, crooning "Blowin' in the Wind," as the demonstrators placed arms around each and swayed back and forth as they sang along.

There were people wearing green Army coats and red bandanas or wrapped in the American flag, thrusting the peace sign in the air and shouting, "No war, no way."

There was Socialist Michael Harrington, standing at the foot of the Capitol, telling the crowd that here were the real lovers of America -- in the tradition of Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony -- in Washington "not to burn the American flag, but to cleanse it."

It was a scene reminiscent of the anti-Vietnam war rallies here in the late 1960s and the early '70s, when as many as a quarter-million people gathered here to protest the Vietnam war.

But this time the crowd was much smaller -- about 22,000 to 30,000 -- and many of the protesters were high school and college students who know of that era through books they've read and film clips they've seen.

They came yesterday for a march billed as a protest of President Carter's plan to revive military draft registration. But those in the crowd, which spanned several generations, carried placards for and against an array of causes, from women's rights and nuclear power to American influence in El Salvador ad the Phillipines and even the use of a tiny island off Puerto Rico as a military base for bombers.

It was the first national scale rally to protest the draft registration plan and the largest antiwar protest since the Vietnam War.

But the draft issue drew a far smaller crowd than other causes that have been expounded in Washington in recent months.

Many had driven all night in vans or on Greyhound buses from as far as Vermont, Georgia, Illinois and Michigan to make it to the mid-day rally.

There was 17-year-old Andrew Lightman of New Jersey, his shoulder-length hair flowing over the multi-colored beads around his neck, whose mother used to take him to anti-war rallies when he was in a baby carriage. Yesterday, his mother warned him before he left home to "take a bandanna in case there's tear gas."

There was Marion Clignet, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. She said she knew all about the '60s from reading Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool Aid Acid Test."

Philip Fleisher, 19, from New Jersey, decided to drape himself in a flag, as antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman did, because he had read Hoffman's book, "Woodstock Nation," thinking it was about rock music.

There was Joan Grandfield of Cincinnati, a nurse, mother of five and grandmother of two, who said she came "because I want to see a peaceful society."

There was Esther Nason, a retiree from Queen's County, N.Y., who was riding back home from Florida with her husband and decided to stop over in Washington for the march because she feels the United States is headed toward a war "to protect the oil companies."

The march got under way around noon on the Ellipse with the Communist Youth Brigade -- one of the largest contingents in the demonstration -- singing "We won't fight the rich man's war," and parading around with a red banner that portrayed Carter and Brezhnev with conical heads.

Meanwhile, some women's rights activists were playing Crosby Stills and Nash and that theme song of the '70s, "Teach Your Children" -- "You who are on the road/must have a code/that you can live by . . ."

Like marchers in the Rose Bowl Parade, each carrying banners to identify their state, their group or their school, the enthusiastic protesters wound their way along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, whipped by a skin-tingling cold March wind.

The diversity of the protesters was often reflected in the chants and slogans they recited -- seldom in harmony -- as they marched along.

While the D.C. Socialist Alliance chanted, "The only solution is socialist revolution," a group of college students representing the Peace Alliance from Harvard and Radcliffe were singing softly, almost religiously, "Brothers, sisters, we are one/treat your neighbor like yourself."

Though Carter's request to Congress for $13.3 million to implement registration of the nation's 19-and-20-year-olds appears in serious jeopardy, yesterday's protesters said they wanted to send a message to the president and Congress that they do not believe the recent crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are critical enough to require draft registration.

"We just think foreign policy is taking a hysterical direction, an interventionalist direction," said 27-year-old economist Rick Nofziger, who drove down from Hoboken, N.J., yesterday morning with two friends to join the march.

Many of the protesters said they believe that the draft registration issue, even if defeated this year, will reappear in Congress.

"Historically, there's never been a registration without a draft and there's never been a draft without a war," said Cathy Foster, who came from Atlanta for the march. Foster said it's necessary to keep the anti-draft-registration momentum going, particularly when nationalism seems to be resurging in the United States after the divisive Vietnam war years.

"The media, government officials are playing up the idea that the anti-war feeling is dead, that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction," said Rich Einhorn, an economist from New York.

Many of the marchers were veterans if the massive antiwar protest here during the Vietnam war and saw some differences between those rallies and yesterday's event.

"I feel people have a clearer idea of the issue now," said Rick Wilson, 28, of Michigan. "They have history behind them."

"There's a different kind of spirit this time. Certainly, in the (protests) that went before, there was a lot of alcohol and drugs," said one student from the University of Connecticut who attended the May Day antiwar rally here in 1971 as a high school student. "I guess it had a lot to do with the counter culture being a large element in the antiwar movement."

Yesterday's march was officially sponsored by the National Mobilization Against the Draft (MAD), representing civil rights, feminist, homosexual, student, labor, religious and Hispanic groups.