Somehow the citizen-lobbyists for the nuclear freeze campaign who came from the country's two largest states got the feeling from their Republican senators that they were not welcome.
Before they got here, the pilgrims kept getting the "don't-call-us-we'll-call-you" message from Sens. Pete Wilson of California and Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, both of whom support President Reagan's anti-freeze "peace through strength" approach.
The members of the new peace movement are like the old one in some superficial respects. They travel by bus, sleep in sympathetic houses or on church floors, and march up to Capitol Hill as if they owned the place.
Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) twitted them at the rally in the damp cold on the West Front of the Capitol, asking them where they had been for the last 11 years.
Across the street from where approximately 4,000 of the pro-freeze people shivered during the congressional speeches, there was an anti-freeze, pro-presidential rally.
It was just like the old days.
What was missing from all the milling and rhetoric and fervor was anger. The new peaceniks are older, more settled. They are not mad, they are just determined.
They don't want to trash the system or yell at anybody. They merely want to say that they will not go away, which obviously was what Wilson and D'Amato hoped they would do.
The negotiations with Wilson's office were conducted by a Northridge housewife, Jo Seidita, who said that in seven weeks she could not get an answer from California's new senator. The press of other business and the unavailability of a hall large enough to accommodate the expected 300 delegates were cited as reasons.
Wilson's aide, Bob White, said that Siedita once issued a threat to a member of the staff, and he suspended the talks.
Finally, after many acrimonious exchanges, Wilson agreed to see five people, but only for 15 minutes and at 12:l5 p.m. Tuesday, when the rally would be in progress.
The Californians were so exercised about the grudging bid that they wrangled over it for two hours at the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church Tuesday morning. They decided to accept.
Harold Willens, chairman of California's victorious freeze intitiative, told Wilson that he had not yet made the transition from being mayor of San Diego to being senator for all Californians, a majority of whom had voted for the freeze last November.
Later in the afternoon, the Californians found how easy it is for a senator to find the time and the place if he has the will. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the freeze resolution, hastily arranged to meet with all 300 pilgrims in a large room in the Dirksen building.
Afterwards, the Californians wished that they had followed the lead of the New Yorkers, who in the face of an even more emphatic rejection from their Republican senator, took dramatic action. According to their moderator, a Presbyterian minister, Jan Orr-Harter, months of negotiation ended with a refusal from D'Amato. A "long-standing engagement in Albany" was the excuse.
At a Tuesday morning delegation meeting at the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, a D'Amato aide came with final word that the senator is "not open on the subject."
The New Yorkers thereupon voted for a "silent vigil" at D'Amato's office in the new Hart Senate office building. One by one, they would sign his guest book. Each would present a portion of the 250,000 New York names they had gathered on freeze petitions. They would all leave personal notes for the senator.
By mid-afternoon the corridors outside D'Amato's quarters were clogged with peace pilgrims. His anteroom was jammed with people waiting to sign in, as all constituents are urged to do when on more compatible business, or laboriously composing their letters on the senator's "constituent inquiry" forms. Sample beginning: "I have four grandchildren."
A single line of New Yorkers filled every step of five stories of the grand open staircase.
Attracted by the throng, the police began arriving. But there was nothing for them to do. A quiet, polite, studious bunch of people, many were hunched over their "constituent inquiry" forms.
A physicist was busy computing how much time it would take for the entire thousand to go through the D'Amato mill. Peter Stein of the Union of Concerned Physicists oberved mildly that he thought it was "a little bit arrogant for a senator not to see so many constituents."
In the end, a thoroughly shaken and shamefaced D'Amato showed up, promising to meet them in New York, complaining of a "congested chest." The sight of that many constituents with opposing views, who refuse to go away, can often congest a chest that way.