Women for life on earth


Published in ‘The Radiator’, Southern Region CND magazine, December 1981 – three months after the camp had first been set up.

 In spite of recent suggestions from the authorities that the only place they can possibly put a sewage line is straight through the campsite, the Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common has settled in for the winter. There is no sign that their demand – for a televised debate on the disarmament issue – will be met, so they are not going away. They have become a constant and very valuable focus of attention on the cruise missiles that are to be stationed at Greenham – and indeed for the Peace Movement as a whole.

The latest we hear (first week of December) is that the authorities have made no move against the camp; though things can change dramatically from day to day. As things stand, the business of the sewage line (which is required because of the installation of 400 more US personnel) may come to a head in the week before Christmas.

In the mean time, a network of people throughout the country is being organised as a Greenham Common Support Group. An enormous number of people is ready to come to Greenham in an emergency.

A varying number, 6 to 12 people, is permanently camped outside the gates of the USAF base. About half of them are now men, but it remains very much a ‘female’ political statement; the organization fluid and unstructured, the pressure on the authorities gentle and unhurried – but firm and insistent.

[It was later decided to restrict the camp to women only, after it had become clear that the pressure of finding an increasing number of women to fulfill outside speaking engagements meant that the camp itself often included more men than women. Amongst CND members and the wider peace movement, the debate over the rights and wrongs of this decision was on-going.]

The campers, most of whom arrived with the Women For Life On Earth peace march at the beginning of September, see it as very important that it should be maintained as  women’s initiative. This is central to the life of the camp itself, where a non-sexist balance is now evolving. And, as one of the women pointed out, “the imbalance of human emotion is central to the arms problem anyway.”

The attitude of the public and the authorities has undoubtedly been coloured by the fact that it is a specifically women’s camp. The nearest water hydrant, for instance, was initially switched off – till someone pointed out to the water authorities that they were depriving women and children of water. The camp now pays £2.50 a month water rates.

In spite of the camp’s exposed and vulnerable position, it is free from harrassment from the public. And it appears to have gained the respect even of the US personnel on the base. Meanwhile, a recent opinion poll revealed that the majority of British people are now opposed to US bases in this country.

The camp has an established postal address and regular deliveries from the postman (“he stops for a ciup of tea”). The atmosphere is relaxed, and though there is still a need for some more solid shelter, the camp is most certainly settled in for the winter.

There was tremendous emotion at the beginning. “Every day was like a month. People shouldn’t hide behind labels any more – this was just a cry from the heart.” And a very effective one: with one group of women chaining themselves to the fence, and another ‘keening’ (a traditional women’s funeral wail), the official mind had no response to offer at all.

And so they remain. They are careful to keep the camp peaceful and – beyond their mere presence – un-provocative. But they have hardened the resolve of the whole movement, to support the camp and to stop the deployment of cruise missiles.

In the words of Jayne Burton, one of the original 40 women who marched all the way from Cardiff, “Cruise is a specific issue which we can really get to grips with. Stopping cruise missiles is an obtainable thing. A success, even a small one like achieving our demand for a TV debate, is possible, realistic.

“I always say I’m part of the Peace Movement, rather than just CND. Ultimately we want a completely peaceful world, not just nuclear disarmament. And for now we’ve got to start somewhere.”

Ann Pettit, who organized the Women’s Peace March, said at the October 24 Peace Rally that “We must use our own initiative; don’t wait for someone else to tell you what to do, no one else can do it for you,” and this has been the keynote of the peace camp right from the beginning.

All the women have become accomplished public speakers, in the belief that it’s important for the people to speak for themselves, without bringing in ‘big-wigs’ from elsewhere. And the camp has no single spokesperson, no structured regime. People get on with what needs to be done, and what interests them.

When I asked them what people could give to help the camp continue, I was given a list of “caravans, transport, paraffin lamps, folding chairs, coffee, dried milk, fresh veg” – and all of these will be welcome. But then, with fresh enthusiasm, came a rush of “paints and paper, costume and theatre props, felt pens, poster-making equipment, musical instruments; we want to get into more art expression. Make that top priority!”

The camp is not just a protest against war. It’s a creative expression of peace.



This piece was published as an editorial in the same magazine, March 1982

At Easter last year, addressing the regional CND rally outside Greenham Common airbase, Bruce Kent confidently told us that 1982 would be the year when cruise missiles would be stopped from being installed in this country. The action now being taken at the Women’s Peace Camp, outside the same base, has become a focus and an inspiration for the whole peace movement.

The camp, which arose spontaneously and has grown steadily in size and rapidly in influence, is the result of a creative and imaginative approach to politics that is seldom seen elsewhere. Its effectiveness is out of all proportion to the number of people in the camp.

The fact that the action has been entirely women-led is of great importance. It adds hugely to the force of the protest, and highlights the fact that women are playing an increasing role in the wider peace movement.

As Leonie Caldicott wrote last November, “It is crucial that women should take a lead in launching imaginative and effective initiatives for peace.

“Statistics show that women are consistently more in favour of disarmament than men … Yet there is still a danger of such women getting stuck in the traditional servicing roles (making tea, typing), which wastes the most valuable resource that women have to offer: that of combining rational analysis with emotional commitment; of speaking directly to others not as ‘experts’ from a platform, but as people who know how their audience feels and thinks.”

The experience of the peace camp, where the emphasis is put on mutual trust, fluid forms of organisation and individual initiative, points the way for women to take such initiatives throughout the movement; and for men to use their own imagination in creating the space and the support that is necessary.

In this way the invisible Berlin walls that exist in nearly every group and family – indeed, in nearly every mind – will start to break down. That is the way to peace.

In the mean time, it is at Greenham Common that cruise missiles will be stopped by 1983, and where the tide will start to turn.