On Aug 26th 1981, 36 people, mainly women, started a 110 mile walk from Cardiff to RAF Greenham Common in protest against the Americans holding Cruise missiles at a military base built on common land. Over the next 19 years Greenham Common became home to thousands of women who believed they could create change and leave the world a better place.
Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp became the largest female led movement since the fight for women’s suffrage yet many people have never heard of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. 40 years on how relevant is this historic event to our young people and how can they find common ground with the women of Greenham Common?
War and conflict
Following on from World War II both Russia and the USA continued to build nuclear weapons during the Cold War. RAF Greenham Common opened in 1942, it was used by the United States Air Force during World War II and during the Cold War, and as a base for US nuclear weapons.
The threat posed by the arms race between the USA and Russia in the 1980s created a visceral fear of nuclear war. Many women also felt that in a world run by men, displays of military power were used as status to the risk of everything and everyone else on the planet.
Today the Cold War is over but countries such as the UK, USA, Russia, France, India and China still have nuclear weapons. With wars raging across the world in countries including Ukraine we see conflict on our TVs and in our media on a daily basis. The Greenham Women used their position as mothers to fight for the next generation to live in a more peaceful world. What type of world do our young people hope for today?
Many Greenham Women saw the threats to the environment that activists and scientists warn us of today and this was a big part of their campaigning. Most of the camp was vegan or vegetarian and the women used art and creativity in their protests and campaigns to draw attention to our links to and dependence on the natural world, just as we see climate crisis campaigners doing today.
As well as campaigning for the removal of the nuclear cruise missiles, the Greenham Women also campaigned for the land they had been stored on to be returned to the public as common land, ground we all have the right to be on. They stayed until this was achieved in 2000.
While the Greenham Women were protesting, they were often portrayed negatively in the press. They were banned from local pubs, and the local community were hostile towards them. A few sympathetic local businesses allowed Greenham Women to use their facilities so they had some access to toilets and running water. Today we might see them as heroes.
Protestors from organisations such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion are also represented negatively in the media. How do you think we will view them in 40 years’ time?
Women’s rights and feminism
Many women went to Greenham because it was women only. It was a chance to live without looking after men, to escape male violence or to share experiences with other women of oppression and to develop their understanding of intersectional and second wave feminism. Being immersed in each other’s company and living without leadership was a radicalising experience for thousands of women and swelled the ranks of the feminist movement nationally. Women from Greenham went on to be part of campaigns that affected women and lesbians, such as the campaign against Section 28 (which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality), the campaign for equal wages and Reclaim the Night marches across the UK.
By the 1960s women had significantly contributed to the war effort in two world wars and gained the vote and they were continuing to fight for women’s rights. Second wave feminists (1960s- 1980s) believed in social, sexual and reproductive freedom. They:
- Saw gender as a social construct
- Saw beauty ideals objectified and held women back
- Rejected domesticity
Finding your voice
At a time when young people are facing an uncertain future as we become more aware of the impact of the climate crisis and growing inequalities, Greenham Common offers an example of the power of people to create change. The Greenham Women didn’t create change overnight, nor was it one woman’s voice instead it was a long journey where hundreds of thousands of women picked up the baton and passed it on. The lesson from Greenham Common is that change is possible and we all have a role to play.
Today we see young activists such as Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai use their voices to unite young people. Looking to our recent past and exploring the stories the Greenham Women have to tell can empower our young people to consider what causes are important to them and how they can amplify their voices.
We’re inviting primary and secondary schools and otherwise educated groups to join us throughout the autumn term 2023 and early spring 2024 to help us explore the legacy of the Greenham Common Peace Camp and the impact it’s had on your community. Are there Greenham Women living in your local area? What skills can you learn from Greenham Women? What causes are important to your community today and what can you learn from Greenham to help you make a difference?
Using our free CPD sessions, Common Ground learning resources and online sessions we’re supporting you every step of the way as you find your own connections to Greenham Common in your local area and learn more about the Greenham Women.
Schools are invited to consider what causes are important to them and write their own manifesto setting their own aims for the future.
All schools who participate will be included in our online Impact Tree and archive as we track the impact of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camps 40 years on where you can share your interviews, research, creative outcomes and manifestos.
Contact Hannah Cushion, Schools Outreach Coordinator if you are interested: email@example.com
NB don’t forget our CND Peace Education Resource Critical Mass which has lesson plans on Greenham Common Women!