It was an unusual sight. On the corner of 16th and K, with horns hooting and sirens sounding, the tall, bearded Russian was explaining into a little thicket of microphones and raised pencils what his trouble is.
"I cannot do without freedom, but I cannot do without family."
A stern young reporter suggested that Anatoly Michelson had to make a choice.
"What you want," he asked plaintively, "that I take out from you your right hand or your left?"
Suddenly poetry was heard. Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a dapper figure in pin stripes, began quoting:
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free.
Michelson, who has been seeking the restoration of the wife and daughter he left 30 years ago in Moscow, nodded in misty-eyed appreciation of Richard Lovelace's lovely lines about separated lovers.
Michelson, now an American citizen living in Sarasota, Fla., is 67, something of a Solzhenitsyn look-alike and possessed. Through three lonely decades, he engaged the State Department, three presidents, literally hundreds of representatives and senators and the wife of one Soviet leader, in his efforts to have his wife and daughter and grandson restored to him. He has written thousands of letters, gone to dozens of offices, political rallies, cocktail parties, to airports, waiting for the mighty to pass by, his letter and photos in hand to press on someone who might help.
Yesterday, he was out in the street again, with a neatly lettered sign stating the facts of his pathetic situation. He was a good two blocks away from his target, the Soviet Embassy. Last February, he had broken the law against picketing within 500 yards of an embassy and was arrested. He was convicted of trespassing.
"You are dealing now with felon," he said to his train of reporters, adding philosophically, "court said court would have done same thing in my situation."
On the face of it, Michelson's case is hopeless, given the fact that the official Soviet view of defectors is that they are traitors, and the Kremlin has relented toward families in only rare instances.
Thirty years ago on June 7, as director of the Center for Engineering for Foundry Machinery, Michelson, on a two-week vacation in Vienna, walked into the U.S. Embassy seeking asylum. He left behind in Moscow his wife, Galina, and his 7-year-old daughter, Olga.
Galina and Olga have since suffered the full punitive force of the Kremlin. Galina, who was a fashion designer (she is also a graduate engineer) was set to work on sewing machines in a dark room. Now 66, she is nearly blind.
Daughter Olga, who is 37, applied 22 times for an exit visa over the years. Every time she did, her husband "instantly" lost his job. They were divorced several years ago. Once an architect, Olga has gone down the scale from bookstore clerk to factory laborer. Her son, Anatoly, is named after his grandfather, whom he has never seen.
Michelson admits he was an innocent to think he could beat the rap. But, he says, it was the time of the anti-Stalin thaw, and he thought the Soviets, much as they valued keeping families apart as a deterrent, might relent.
"Now after we paid such price," he said in the hot sun of 16th Street, "no one would think we could be encouraging anyone to defect. Logic says to release them. What is the fate of two zero women against the good opinion of the U.S.?"
He has hopes that "big publicity" will bring him a happy ending.
"Never so much congressional support," he said, as he moved forward beaming to receive three senators, Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) and Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.), who were escorted to the protest site by Michelson's congressman, Connie Mack III (R-Fla.).
Michelson has prospered in the United States as an engineer and an inventor. All through the yearning years, he was sending weekly letters and parcels to Moscow. At first Olga never received them. But at the Vienna summit in 1961, he managed to meet Khrushchev's wife. "Nina Petrovna," he said, "I have differences with your husband, but is that any reason why my wife and child should be barefoot and starving?" After that the mail went through.
Michelson took early retirement to devote himself full-time to his quest.
He never thought of divorce, never thought of finding and marrying someone else during the long nightmare. "Honestly, she is an angel, the first time I saw her I felt someone had hit me. She is so noble, mild, so very kind. She is not just wife. She is sister, best friend, mother. I feel a responsibility for her. She needs me. What else can I do?"