Residents for and against a movement for a Soviet-American nuclear weapons freeze jammed Rockville's City Council chambers last week, passing out statements and holding up babies in efforts to sway the council's decision decision on the matter.
Rockville is the latest Washington area community to encounter the grass-roots, nuclear-freeze movement. The early resolutions by other cities passed with little clamor, but now with heightened public debate Rockville faces a stormy confrontation.
The council decided to vote Aug. 16 on whether to back a resolution endorsing a nuclear freeze and on whether to hold a public referendum on the arms freeze issue.
The subdued mayor and council listened while residents and representatives of political groups let loose with emotional appeals, constitutional analyses, academic treatises, opinion surveys and even book reviews.
George Pospisil, a federal worker and city resident, approached the microphone carrying his infant son. "This is the bottom line," he told the council. "I don't have any papers to hand you; but I bring you my son." He urged the council to pass the resolution, "so that we no longer threaten our children with death."
With that, he stepped aside and began to sob. Television cameras zoomed in. Council members looked at one another and blushed.
Aside from the highly charged emotional elements, the nuclear arms issue presents a particularly sticky choice for Mayor John R. Freeland, an Air Force colonel.
At a recent Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments meeting, Freeland avoided the arms issue, saying he didn't think common people understood what is at stake. He and other council members have suggested local governments have no business considering the nation's nuclear arms policy.
But at last week's hearing, residents on both sides of the issue pressed the council to take a stand.
"You guys were elected to represent us," said Sima Asgoby, a city resident. "You have been delegated that responsibility. You'll just have to use your judgment. Good luck with it."
When Douglas Duncan, a first-term council member, said that maybe the council should bow out and the residents instead should conduct a referendum, Pospisil compared Duncan's intent to that of the Roman Emperor Pontius Pilate.
If any council member failed to support the resolution, he said, "I'll personally bring you bowls of warm water so you can feel perhaps a little bit cleaner."
Svan Holm, another city resident, also urged the council to take a stand. He said the council should forget this "fashionable issue" and instead mobilize residents "to work together to build houses, bomb shelters and get rid of illegal zoning and get rid of cheating by city employes."
"We now have a window of vulnerability," Arthur Katz warned. "That's the vulnerability to the illusion that we can conduct a nuclear war with such precision that nuclear war would be winnable."
M. Thomas Lawrey, chairman of a local political group, Independents for Rockville, urged the council to drop the whole matter and "get on with City of Rockville business."
"The resolution has all the earmarks of propaganda being spread by antinuclear groups," Lawry said. "We should not place the moral or semilegal burden of nuclear disarament on our elected officials alone. We must ask for divine intervention."
Council member Steve Abrams, who sponsored the resolution, pointed out that Lawry's group had taken no vote, and that Lawry was speaking for himself. Lawry countered that Abrams is campaigning for state delegate.
In other business, the council discussed creating a Rockville Advisory Commission on Public Education.
Officials said they hope the commission would give Rockville more influence in Montgomery County Board of Education decisions, including those affecting curricula, school closings and racial balance. A hearing on the commission's establishment is set for Oct. 25.
The council also awarded a $217,101 contract to A. H. Smith of Branchville to reseal city streets with a skid-resistant paving material.