Yesterday was Big Oil protest day and Lewis Eastburn, a retired United Auto Workers union member from Wilmington, Del., came to Washington to complain about his heating bills.

He picketed the American Petroleum Institute headquarters on L Street NW with his wife, Sarah, and a thousand other protesters, rode to the Capitol in a caravan led by an alcohol powered bus and spoke his mind on the country's energy problems.

"They ought to nationalize the oil companies and put a ceiling on the prices," Eastburn said.

"The way oil prices are going up it's going to break our budget, and there's a lot of folks worse off than we are," added his wife. "If it keeps going like this, we're gonna be down there with them."

Carrying signs reading "I don't Want to Freeze in the Dark" and "Heat or Eat, Food or Fuel?", the Eastburns joined one of a nationwide series of demonstrations organized by labor officials and liberal leaders opposed to the trend in energy legislation.

There were honk-ins (outside President Carter's campaign headquarters in New Hampshire), teach-ins (at the University of Pennsylvania), and callins (to several members of Congress wavering on energy legislation).

Their goal was spelled out in a pair of bills introduced yesterday by two of the protest's congressional backers, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (d-Ohio) and Rep. Toby Moffett (d-Conn.), who were among half a dozen lawmakers who addressed the rally on the Capitol steps.

The goal is to reimpose controls on oil and other energy prices, break up the big oil companies and take away their tax breaks, and set up a taxpayers energy corporation to import oil, explore for new energy sources and develop alternatives to petroleum.

But Charles DiBona, president of the American Petroleum Institute, charged that those policies "would play right into the hands" of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

In response to yesterday's rally, API took its name off the building directory and locked the front doors to its headquarters, but it invited reporters in to hear its response to the protesters.

DiBona said price controls would "deprive consumers of 2 million barrels of domestic oil a day, tighten OPEC's grip on the American economy, make gasoline lines more likely and increase unemployment."

The protesters failed last week to get Congress to restore price controls on oil and they face heavy political opposition to many of their other demands. o

But rather than debate details, they spent much of yesterday railing and rallying against the oil companies, passing out Big Oil "discredit cards" and carrying bright red STOP signs -- for Stop The Oil Profiteers.

"The big oil companies are in cahoots with the Arabs and they're robbing us blind," William Hutton to the National Council of Senior Citizens told the picketers outside of API. "Not one president of any of the oil companies has gone to jail."

"Nix on Exxon," Freeze Prices, Not People," and "Stop Giving Away the Country to the Arabs," the picket signs demanded.

"There's no question that they should nationalize the big oil companies and put on price controls," said Joseph Davis, a retiree who lives in Washington. Davis hitched a ride between the two protest sites on a bus converted to burn alcohol by Mike McCallum and Greg Friedman, alternative-energy advocates from Brookline, Mass. Last weekend they used the bus to haul protesters to and from the Seabrook, N.H., nuclear plant for a demonstration, Friedman said.

McCallum said the bus burns alcohol because, "unless you're a very lucky person, you can't drill your own oil well, but you can produce your own alcohol."

Alternative-energy advocates and antinuclear protesters were outnumbered by senior citizens, many of them retired union members, at the rally here.

Beatrice Freeman and Virginia McKeever, retired UAW members from Philadelphia, said they picked the oil industry trade association, in the words of McKeever, "because we've got to stop these oil companies."

"Gasoline is up to $1.02 a gallon. That's outrageous, that's why we're here," added Freeman.

Among the labor leaders who put together the protests were William Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinist; Donald Fraser, UAW president, and Jerry Wurf, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes.

Across the nation, the turnouts were small at most of the more than 100 planned protests.

The Associated Press reported that about 150 people marched in Cleveland, where an Atlantic Richfield Co. exhibit on how to improve auto gasoline mileage drew bigger crowds.