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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp

by Sarah Meyer
Index Research

Photo by Sigrid Møller

It is the 25th anniversary of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. We lived outside the US base near Newbury, Berkshire, where US Cruise missiles were to be installed. Sometimes there were two or three dozen of us. Sometimes there many more women, especially on weekends and holidays. The first big demonstration, "Embrace the Base,' brought thousands of women to Greenham. Then Greenham became international. All Greenham gates had women living nearby. Women were supported by donations of money, food and blankets. The postmen bent under the bags of post. Writing return letters in the mud and rain in the winter by the fire was not easy.

Ann Pettitt (see below) is highly qualified to write a book about Greenham. I well remember the first time I met her ... she questioned me about why I was living at Greenham. Then we became friends. I don't know how I feel about a man writing a book (see below) concerning what was essentially a woman's experience. The only men whom I feel are qualified to write about the Greenham years are the husbands and sons we left behind whilst we experienced a neolithic lifestyle that alternated between total boredom and high drama. What was the separation like for them, and for our daughters? How did they experience the “embarrassment” and pain of having a Greenham wife / mother? How did the separation affect their lives?

Being arrested became an occasional way of life, whether it was in the UK, Hungary, Sweden, East Germany. In the U.K, a woman could be arrested whilst walking from one gate to the next for “obstructing the pavement.” I remember three policemen arresting us during an ice - cold winter week in Sweden. "Let go of her," said one of my Greenham companions. "Why should we do that?" a policeman asked. "Well," she replied, "you wouldn't let your wife get in the car with a strange man, would you?" Not knowing what to do in such a situation, like many police in those days, I was released. We went back to the 'peace camp' fire outside a large building where some "Very Important People” in suits were deciding the future of the Cold War.

The review mentions one of our more memorable experiences. For Halloween weekend, we arranged, via a ‘telephone tree,’ to cut the fence. We spoke on our tapped telephones about ‘black cardigans’ (bolt cutters). Organisations like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), of which I was not a member, disapproved and refused to support this violation of property - although everyone seemed to be ‘at it’ later. After all, who was (is) doing the violating – non-violent peace protestors or those making nuclear weapons and threatening nuclear war? The police thought we were just going to climb over the fence again. So they built a second fence, and stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ behind their new ‘security.’ When we, wearing Halloween hats, then started cutting the fence with bolt cutters ranging from petite to Builder’s Best, the police couldn’t get to us. This temporary time-lapse allowed 7,000 of us to cut down 9 miles of fencing. This was hard work, one woman on another woman’s shoulders, but fun nonetheless. So many of us were arrested that they took us to the Newbury Racecourse to process the arrests. It was a good day. We learned that there was no such thing as “security.” This is still true today, except for the burgeoning prison (‘detainee’) cells and amoral torture centres. But there are $s/£s to be made on ‘security,’ you see …

Do I think the Greenham women changed anything? I am often asked this question. Yes. The women changed the awareness and attitude of many people worldwide about nuclear weapons. There were, at that time, over 90 US bases in the U.K, thanks to the friendship and cooperation between the US and UK governments. (Plus ça change) Some of us traveled abroad, joining in on Peace Walks, meetings and conferences (END, WILPF, eg.), encouraging and supporting others. The peace movement in the early 80's was empowering for many people.

I wish more people would now stand up to the present denial and destruction of our basic human rights. I wish more people would INSIST on treaties barring all nuclear weapons, cluster and phosphorus bombs, Depleted Uranium, and all the other experimental horrors that bear no relationship to the meaning of our life on earth. I do realise that these weapons make some people very short-term rich, which I suppose is nice for them - if not for the dead and/or affected families. But these weapons will be a catastrophe for our children and future children. That is, if our planet survives what appears to be a driving and demonic death wish by those in power.

Please read Catherine Taylor’s Guardian review, Bring Your Black Cardigans about two books on the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp at Newbury, Berkshire:

· Common Ground: The Story of Greenham by David Fairhall, 224pp, IB Tauris, £18.99

· Walking to Greenham: How the Peace Camp Began and the Cold War Ended by Ann Pettitt, 190pp, Honno, £8.99

and, if you feel inspired: read Ann’s book; look at Sigrid Møller's and Grethe Andersen's photographs of Greenham here. Also see : The Danish Peace Academy, Documentation: Greenham Common Peace Camp and Sarah Meyer Collection : Commonweal Archives, Special Collections.

The 'Greenham Women' were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.

Thanks to all the women who first walked to Greenham, to all those who supported us,

“Sarah Rainbow Bus”
Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, December 1982 – February 1984.


Sarah Meyer is a researcher living in England.

The url to Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp is:

Tags: , , Ann Pettitt

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