Before a pinching wind and the cool judicial facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, an overwhelmingly white, self-proclaimed "Christian" crowd bellowed the fervor of their convictions: "Life! Life! Life! Life!"

"What do we want?" "Pro-life!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

They were an army of amateur demonstrators, concerned not with the "quality" of life that fired the protesters of the '60s, but with the issue of life itself.

Grandmothers and schoolchildren, members of religious orders, technicians and housewives, they came by bus and car and plane, from North Dakota and Florida and even Alaska to turn their combined prayers to the passage of a Paramount Human Life Amendment.

There were brief flashes of festivity as state delegations roared their attendance ("I see the Youth for Maine right down there!" called out parade organizer Nellie Gray) and Knights of Columbus hawked World's Finest candy bars. Yet a grim purposefulness set the faces in the cortege following the miniature coffins of the unborn.

"I'm a chicken at heart," said Kathy Hill, who rode the bus from New Milford, Conn., with four of her five sons, including one in a wheelchair, and her husband.

"But I do believe [abortion] is murder. They talk about 'fetuses,' and they can distance themselves. I carry babies."

Before the assembly, Father Daniel Kirk of Saint Anselm's Abbey in Northwest Washington sat on a small grate, reading a history of the early Christian martyrs. "You know, I thought in the '60s that a lot of anti-war marchers were just compulsive protesters, idealists. I was very slow in turning around.

"But there some things happening in this country that happened in the Roman Empire . . . like abortion."

There were only a few veterans of those old protest days, including Sister Miriam, a member of the Sisters of Charity from Boston, who was easily spotted when she began singing, "We Shall Overcome," the anthem of the '60s.

"I've been marching for 20 years," she said, "because I'm totally committed to God, and because I believe that being a follower of Christ means being able to read the signs of the times."

Though the majority of marchers arrived in the morning, there was a handful of holdovers from Inauguration Day. Mimi Fallon, 52, of Butler, Pa., headed the left flank of the parade in her mink coat and blue cowboy hat banded with Reagan bumper stickers.

"I'm really marching to the Hyatt," she admitted. "We have to check out by 2:30."

Fallon snapped her chin up when one of the parade marshals goaded her side by saying, "The other side is a lot louder than you are."

"They're not as old as we are," she said sharply.

Not far behind bobbed 7-year-old Elizabeth Brix, perched on her father's shoulders and squinting out through a wool ski hood.

"Why are you here?" her father, the Rev. James Brix of the First Baptist Church in Freehold, N.J., asked gently.

"So that the babies in their mommies' stomachs won't be killed," she said.

Nine-year-old Nancy Hartman of Carlisle, Pa., half-hidden behind her "From Here . . . to Eternity" sign, was more vehement, saying she agreed with the bombing of clinics.

"Oh, no, Nan," protested her father Larry. "No violence is good."

"Well," she muttered, "Abortion is violence."

There was only a handful of black protesters in the crowd. Sheryl Lee, 24, a nurse at Children's Hospital, said, "Blacks are more concerned about economics. They think the fewer of us there are the more money there will be."

Lee, who has two sisters who had children while single, said, "Now [one] sister's a schoolteacher. She thought about having an abortion but something inside her told her it was wrong. My second sister was in college when she got pregnant. Now she's married and has a good job. I would like to say to people that you can make it if you are single and have a child."

And 26-year-old David Horsley of Lynchburg, Va., argued, "It's not a racial issue, it's a people issue."