Posted on 24 June 2020
One of the most defining anti-nuclear protests was the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (GCWPC).
Between 1981 – 2000, the GCWPC was a series of protest camps established to protest nuclear weapons from the Untited States’ being stored at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England.
Women for Life on Earth
The GCWPC began in September 1981 after a Welsh group, Women for Life on Earth, arrived as protesters at the RAF Greenham Common base. In the first act of resistance, 36 women chained themselves to the base’s perimeter fence in protest.
To sustain support for their cause these women set up a peace camp outside the RAF base, at first in caravans and tents, and then, when those were removed by bailiffs, branches were bent over and covered with large sheets of plastic.
The women organised and publicised events and actions to draw attention to the issue. They blockaded the base, lay down in the road in front of lorries carrying the nuclear warheads, pursued night-time convoys, put sugar in the petrol. Their protest was always peaceful.
It was decided that the protest should involve women only. It was a space to express women’s beliefs without the usual patriarchal dominance. The collective identity of women as mothers and carers was used to signify that the protest was about the future safety of children.
For the women at the GCWPC, a woman’s place was not in the home, but at the protest.
Embrace the Base
The GCWPC protest became known as Embrace the Base and it caught the imagination of the public. Thousands of women from not just up and down the country, but also Europe and America came to Greenham Common to join the peace camp.
A year later after the first peace camp was established, in September 1982, the women were evicted by the local council. However, the women regrouped and formed another nearby camp only days later.
The camp itself organically grew into a collection of nine smaller camps, most stationed by a gate of the airbase and named after the colours of the rainbow. The first was Yellow Gate, which was established the month after the march reached the airbase.
The rest followed throughout 1983. Green Gate, was nearest to the silos, and being furthest from the road was considered to be safest for children. Turquoise Gate was the next along towards Newbury, followed by Blue Gate – also known as the new age gate.
By now, the GCWPC was an intentionally leaderless organisation. This was a cause of great frustration to the media and other oppositional forces who found it difficult to articulate their opposition without a clear figurehead.
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.[
In 1983, 70,000 peace demonstrators formed a human chain of 14 miles to link Greenham to Aldermaston and Burghfield – two sites that were used in the development of nuclear weapons. At the same time 200 women from the GCWPC entered the RAF base dressed as teddy bears.
Juxtaposing the softness of the childhood symbol against the highly militarised atmosphere of the RAF base, the women successfully highlighted their cause not just across the UK, but also to the world as a whole.
A year later, in 1984, the women were once again evicted from the camp. But they soon returned and the GCWPC would continue to have large numbers of women protesting until 1987.
Removal of Missiles
It was in 1987 that the governments of both the UK and United States agreed to begin removing missiles from RAF Greenham Common. The last missiles left the base in 1991 as a result of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but the camp remained in place until 2000, after protesters won the right to house a memorial on the site.
Although the missiles had been removed from the base, the camp was continued as part of the protest against the forthcoming UK Trident programme.
When the last women left and the GCWPC was disband in 2000, a peace garden was created at the site as a memorial to efforts of the women who held a 19-year continuous presence at the RAF base. In 2014, a trust was established to maintain the peace garden as a long lasting legacy.
The focal point of the peace garden are seven welsh standing stones that surround a sculpture that symbolises the flames of a campfire – with the circular enscription:
You can’t kill the spirit
Image from www.lawgazette.co.uk/, rachelstevensenvironment.com/ and peacemuseum.org.uk/