They were two neatly dressed women, sitting quietly behind folding tables at the Ballston Metro Station exit. On the table was an empty milk bottle for contributions from the commuters and shoppers. Their hand-lettered sign read: "SUPPORT A NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREEZE."
"I remember the bomb holes, and those were conventional weapons," said Ingrid Wooten, 33, who moved to the United States from Germany nine years ago. "What would nuclear weapons do?"
Wooten and Sally Robertson, 24, are political newcomers, unaccustomed to hustling Metro commuters for petition signatures. But they are not unlike other Arlington residents active in the movement to end the nuclear arms race.
"I don't like controversy. I don't like war. I don't like arguments," said Marcia Kreeger, 24, who grew up in Arlington, graduated from Yorktown High School and had never been active in politics before her decision to join the antinuclear campaign. Echoing a sentiment expressed repeatedly by local antinuclear workers, she said she is simply afraid of nuclear war.
Kreeger, Wooten and Robertson are among the hundreds of Virginians who in recent weeks helped gather more than 30,000 signatures on petitions calling for an immediate freeze on nuclear weapons. Virginia Sen. John W. Warner, cosponsor of the Jackson-Warner resolution, which calls for a U.S.-Soviet reduction in nuclear arms, accepted the petitions last week in a Senate meeting room packed with more than 170 people.
A key part of the Jackson-Warner resolution urges negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union before sharp reductions in nuclear weapons. The proposal of negotiated reductions brought sharp criticism from the Virginia group.
"We're afraid that your resolution . . . will amount to STALL--Strategic Arms Limitations Limbo," Nan Rodney, 45, coordinator of the Northern Virginia Coalition for a Nuclear-Weapon Freeze, told Warner. The group had gathered about 10,000 signatures, most from the 8th and 10th Congressional districts in Northern Virginia.
Warner told the crowd nuclear freeze proposals are impractical, and said he has agreed in principle to a nationally televised debate this summer with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who supports an immediate freeze on nuclear weapons.
"They the Soviets deal only from strength," Warner said. "If they see a lack of determination and will from us, they'll never move an inch."
"Baloney!" replied someone from the crowd, amid loud rumbles of agreement.
Such confrontations are new experiences for many Arlingtonians active in the antinuclear movement. They range from a retired naval operations research analyst to a homemaker, a teacher, a secretary and a former Senate staffer.
"It's a really conservative group in the true sense of the word," said Ann Rice, 64, who added that she is one of the few volunteers who was active in the Vietnam antiwar movement. "It's very respectable people." She said freeze supporters do not meet the public hostility that antiwar activists met years ago.
"This is the first time I've done something real, as opposed to the never-never land of Capitol Hill," said Gale Picker, 31, a former Senate committee staff worker. "It's incredible how much has been done considering the immense lack of organization and sophistication."
Sidney Shear, a 70-year-old retired naval analyst from Arlington, joined the movement after participating in a peace study group at the Rock Spring Congregational Church in Arlington. "I was opposed to the Vietnam war, but I never got involved in any way," Shear said. "I was naive to politics."
Rodney said the Northern Virginia Coalition plans to support local candidates who endorse a nuclear freeze. "We intend to make this a voting issue," he said.
Northern Virginia Republican representatives Frank Wolf and Stanford E. Parris oppose an immediate freeze, spokesmen said.
Arlington freeze supporters do not see themselves as radicals. Said Wooten, "All people who know the slightest thing about it, support it."