Online virtual exhibition
It’s been 40 years since The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. The 1980s peace camp against US cruise missiles (nuclear weapons) was a demonstration of female power that echoes through to contemporary women’s protests. The Greenham protests taught a whole generation about collective action, about protest as spectacle and as a way of life. Women report that it was mostly incredibly hard and often unpleasant but sometimes joyous. Incredibly, some women lived there for years. We can only marvel at their courage, strength, organisational abilities and commitment to a peaceful future. Women showed they were a force to be reckoned with and that together they could achieve change.
The camp had started in 1981 as a protest against NATO’s decision to site American cruise missiles at the Berkshire site. By February 1982 it had been decided that this was a women-only protest. Women blockaded the gates into the compound – lying down, linking arms and going limp when moved by the Police.
They chained themselves to the fence, locked themselves into sentry boxes, climbed into air traffic control towers, cut the fence, tore down the fence, climbed over the fence and invaded the base. Women were arrested and went to court and prison. This was active, feminist, non-violent, civil disobedience. They danced on top of the nuclear silos on New Years Day 1983.
The women used their identity as carers and mothers to talk about the future safety of their children. They weaponised traditional notions of femininity. Symbolically and strategically this made Greenham special. By casting the political area as male, the women’s very presence became a clear and problematic intrusion.
One of the things the women remember most, apart from the mud, was how the layout of the airbase clearly represented how power works. The American military were at the core, then the British soldiers and then the police. Outside were the women, locked out, who would periodically tear down the surrounding fence, violating this male space. Women in turn were routinely violated, dragged out of their tents in the cold of the night. Life was really difficult. The tenacity of the women who lived there was extraordinary.
In 1983 the first missiles arrived. There were two massive actions: a 14 mile human chain linking Burghfield, Aldermaston and Greenham by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND); and at the Greenham nuclear base two hundred women dressed as teddy bears entered the base for a picnic. The photos of heavily armed soldiers against teddy bears brilliantly illustrated their campaign for peace not war. Thirty thousand women arrived that December to the ‘Encircle the Base’ demonstration, holding up mirrors to reflect the military back to themselves. The women tied personal objects such as nappies, toys, wool and ribbons to the fence.
In December 1987, Ronald Reagan (President of USA) and Mikhail Gorbachev (President of USSR) signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which brought the end for cruise missiles and in August 1989 the first missiles left the base.
(With acknowledgement to The Guardian article on this topic, you can read the full article to hear the women’s stories: greenham-common-nuclear-silos-women-protest-peace-camp)