It was a scene colored by the rhetoric and symbols of the 1960s. Amid folk songs and chants, there was an overtone of nostalgia -- and, in the end, perhaps a measure of political anticlimax.
A modest-sized (20,000 to 30,000 persons), law-abiding, but vocal crowd marched and massed in Washington last weekend to protest President Carter's proposal to reinstate draft registration.
Leaders of the protest rally said they gathered to demonstrate that renewed registration would face growing resistance. But registration of draft-age men and women already seems to be foundering of its own accord in Congress.
Although President Carter has the power to register young men, in order to do so he must persuade Congress to approve a $13.3 million supplemental appropriation. The money bill will face tough opposition.
Sen. Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon, a leading congressional critic of the Vietnam war, promised the crowd Saturday (March 22) he would filibuster if draft registration reaches the floor of the Senate. Senator Hatfield said peacetime registration would save only seven days over post-mobilization registration and would give the President undue warmaking power.
But congressional observers say the Carter administration is approaching registration of 19- and 20-year-old men as a "must win" proposition. White House lobbyists have been ordered to push strongly for it. Aproposal to register women, having already failed in the House, is considered unlikely to win support in a Senate subcommittee.
If the male registration proposal reaches the floor of Congress, and if a Senate filibuster can be overcome by the cloture rule, the proposal probably would have enough support to pass.
In such an event, the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups, is prepared to challenge it in court.
A Pentagon study prior to President Carter's call for a new sign-up discusses the possibility of male-only registration being invalidated in the courts as sexually discriminatory, but the US Justice Department has predicted that male-only registration could survive court challenges.
The weekend demonstrators -- many clad in faded denims, olive-drab Army jackets, and headbands, some waving placards or bright red flags advertising a "May Day" rally -- did not match those of the late 1960s and early 1970s in number or in populist unity. Strong March winds were enough to discourage fair-weather activists. So the size of the crowd indicated a dedicated base. But the mood at this gathering did not seem as quietly concerned as last spring when 100,000 persons met at a Washington anti-nuclear rally.