Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp

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On 12 December 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6 miles (9.7 km) perimeter of the base, in protest against the decision to site American cruise missiles there

Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was a peace camp established to protest at nuclear weapons being sited at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England. The camp began in September 1981 after a Welsh group, Women for Life on Earth, arrived at Greenham to protest against the decision of the British government to allow cruise missiles to be based there.[1] The first blockade of the base occurred in May 1982 with 250 women protesting, during which 34 arrests were made.[2]

History[edit]

The first instance of the Greenham Common Peace Camp came about when in September 1981 36 women chained themselves to the base fence in protest to nuclear power.[2] On 29 September 1982 the women were evicted by Newbury District Council but set up a new camp nearby within days.[3] In December 1982, 30,000 women responded to a chain letter sent out and joined hands around the base at the Embrace the Base event.[2]

The camp became well known when on 1 April 1983, about 70,000 protesters formed a 14 miles (23 km) human chain from Greenham to Aldermaston and the ordnance factory at Burghfield.[4][5] The women's peace camp attracted significant media attention and "prompted the creation of other peace camps at more than a dozen sites in Britain and elsewhere in Europe".[1] Another encircling of the base occurred in Dec 1983, with 50,000 women attending. Sections of the fence were cut and there were hundreds of arrests.[2][6]

Greenham Common peace sign

On 4 April 1984, the women were again evicted from the Common; again by nightfall many had returned to reform the camp.[7] In January 1987, although Parliament had been told that there were no longer any women at Greenham, small groups of women cut down parts of the perimeter fence at Greenham Common every night for a week.[8]

The camp consisted of nine smaller camps at various gates around the base. The first was called Yellow Gate and others included: Blue Gate with its new age focus, Violet Gate with a religious focus, and Green Gate which was exclusively women-only and did not accept male visitors.[2]

The last missiles left the camp in 1991 as a result of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but the camp remained in place until 2000 after protestors won the right to house a memorial on the site.[9] Although the missiles had been removed from the base, the camp was continued as part of the protest against the forthcoming UK Trident programme. The last four protesters to leave the site included Sarah Hipperson who had been part of the camp protest for a total of nineteen years.[10]

A Commemorative & Historic Site on the site of the old camp was inaugurated on 5 October 2002 which featured a circle of seven standing stones encircling the 'Flame' sculpture which represented a camp fire. This was demolished in September 2013 after being vandalised a number of times and three of the stones being stolen.[11]

Importance of Gender[edit]

In February 1982 it was decided that the protest should involve women only.[12] This facet was important as the women were using their identity as mothers to legitimize the protest against these nuclear weapons, all in the name of the safety of their children and future generations.[13] The female-only nature of the peace camps also allowed women to assert their own dominance in a political arena often reserved for men. The women of Greenham integrated themselves into these male-dominated political spaces, not through violence, but through their mere presence at a “male” location like the RAF Greenham Common Military base.

There were several instances when women entered the camp, thus entering "male" space. On New Year’s Eve 1982, the women broke into the base for the first time; 44 women climbed over the military base’s fence and climbed on top of the silos and danced around on them for hours. All of the women were arrested and 36 were imprisoned.[12] On April 1, 1983, 200 women entered the base dressed at teddy bears to protest [12] —a “child” symbol like the teddy bear was a stark contrast to the highly militarized atmosphere of the base; the women again were highlighting the safety of their children and future generations of children.[13] The next major event was the 'Reflect the Base' on December 11, 1983, where 50,000 women circled the base to protest the Cruise missiles which had arrived three weeks earlier.[12] The day had started as a silent vigil where women held up mirrors as to allow the base to symbolically look back at itself and its actions; however the day ended with hundreds of arrests as the women pulled down large sections of the fence.[12]

Upon breaching the barriers and entering the camp, these women were making the statement that they would not stay at home and do nothing, as women are traditionally expected to do, while the men take care of the serious “male” issues.[13] Their refusal to go home at the end of each day was a challenge against the traditional notion that a women’s place was in the home — many media outlets even questioned the behaviour of the Greenham women stating that if their children were so important to them (as their protest suggested), then why were they not home with them?[13] The media tended to ignore the Greenham women’s collective identity of “women as mothers” protecting the children, and largely focused on the illegitimacy of the camp, describing it as a witches coven laden with criminal activity, with the women posing a threat to family values and the state.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 147.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Records of Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp (Yellow Gate)". National Archives. 
  3. ^ "Greenham Peace Camps Evicted". Red Rag. 3 October 1982. 
  4. ^ "1983: Human chain links nuclear sites". British Broadcasting Corporation. 1 April 1983. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  5. ^ Paul Brown, Shyama Perera and Martin Wainwright. Protest by CND stretches 14 miles The Guardian, 2 April 1983.
  6. ^ "Moles & Lemmings (a personal account of the action at Greenham on December 11th 1983)". Red Rag. 8 January 1984. 
  7. ^ "1984: Greenham Common women evicted". British Broadcasting Corporation. 4 April 1984. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  8. ^ "More Actions at Greenham!!". Red Rag. 10 February 1987. 
  9. ^ "19-year Greenham Common campaign to end". Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 September 2000. 
  10. ^ BBC Radio 4 PM broadcast 3 November 2011
  11. ^ Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp Commemorative & Historic Site
  12. ^ a b c d e Kidron, Beeban. "Your Greenham". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Shepherd, Laura J (2010). Gender Matters in Global Politics. New York: Routledge. pp. 3–14. 

Further reading[edit]

Several sets of papers related to Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, including;

  • Greenham Common Collection ref 5GCC
  • Records of Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp (Yellow Gate) ref 5GCW
  • Jayne and Juliet Nelson (Yellow Gate) ref 7JAN

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°22′18.07″N 1°16′40.79″W / 51.3716861°N 1.2779972°W / 51.3716861; -1.2779972