1325 PeaceWomen
PACO BASCUÑÁN
Design creator
LAS MUJERES DE GREENHAM COMMON
ANA SCHULZ
Text writer
"We fear for the future of our children and for the future of the land, which is the basis of all life"
United Kingdom, 1981

The Camp ofGreenham Common was created as a non-violent initiative by a group of British women who, from 1981 to 2000, planted themselves next to the American military base in order to protest against nuclear proliferation.  They gained the support of thousands of people throughout the world and became a symbol of the fight against nuclear weapons.

On Thursday, August 27,1981, 36 members of “Women for life on earth” began a 120 mile (193 kilometer) march on foot from Cardiff, Wales to Berkshire, England, with the destination of the American military base of Greenham Common. They had one clear objective in mind:  to prevent the installation of 96 nuclear Cruise missiles with 4 extremely destructive warheads, each capable of killing a population of two million people, pointing towards the USSR. The women’s march lasted for 10 days, during which 4 of these women linked together around the perimeter fence of the military base in order to urge the government to accept their request for a televised debate on nuclear armament.  The government refused to accept their request, and so they decided to set up a permanent camp. Thus, the Camp of Greenham Common was born, and became an icon of the fight against nuclear weapons in the eighties. In 1982, at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s government, the camp became exclusively female.

“We fear for the future of our children and for the future of the land, which is the basis of all life,” read their appeal.  As allies of Mother Earth, as women and mothers, they wished to accentuate their physical “weakness” as females in order to give strength to their non-violent fight, to create a contrast to their military surroundings, and to achieve its closure.  Their objectives were wide-ranging and changed over the years, but were principally antinuclear, antimilitarist and, above all, ecologic. Lastly, they embodied the feminist element.  They became known as “Women for life on Earth”. 

Their area of movement and protest covered the whole of the perimeter fence that separated them from the base and the patrols.  They occupied an area of 9 miles (14 km) that didn’t legally belong to the military zone as so was free for public and common use (from which came the name of Greenham Common). This fact came into play in their favour during the court sessions in which many of the women were obliged to appear. However, this did not free many of them from spending terms in prison, on occasion as often as 16 times, as was the case of Katrina Howse. There came to be more than 40 camps of women, and it was on the military fence where they applied most of their imaginative ideas, in order to channel their struggle.

Joined together in the fight were intellectual women, political militants, women with and without education, women from the countryside, high class women, elderly women and homosexual women. Together, they withstood the difficult tests of having no electricity or telephone and surviving in the rain and intense cold, as there were very poor living conditions in the camps. The women invented a mobile tent that could be taken down and put up again very quickly, which made the camps very elusive and thus they could easily appear and disappear as needed.

The support the women received for their cause came in mayn different forms and was vital to their survival.  They counted on a supportive network which provided them with infrastructure and food. These supplies came from country people from the Quaker community, from women who often travelled to the camp or helped care for the homes many of the women had left behind. A kind of floating village was generated around the settlement.  This was one of the reasons for which images of webs and nets became symbols of the camp.

Kim Besly, one of the activists recounts,  “There were some farmers who brought us large amounts of straw, which is very warm and which we covered with sheets.  People were extraordinarily generous with us. They arrived in cars overflowing with sheets and food and, with a little luck, they also brought a bottle of sorts that helped us to better endure the cold nights.”

In 1983 the camp became exclusively female. Up until then, men had taken part in the camp, although it was principally female.  From that moment on, they lent their support in another way, by looking after their homes and children. Some women, however, chose to raise their children in the camp.

 The women took turns offering their ingenuity to suggest new and improved imaginative, non-violent actions.  The militants inside the camp had been given  clear orders to shoot at all those who jumped over the fence.  In answer to this, the women dressed up as teddy bears and crossed over by opening gaps in the fence.  Any serious sign of confrontation was thus diluted since a cuddly toy is not a threatening target that needs to be shot at.  In this way, they snuck into the forbidden land with humour, offering tea to the soldiers, and hanging their underwear on the fences surrounding the base, flooding a militarised, violent landscape with symbols of mundane, everyday life.

On some occasions, their actions were very effective, since they disrupted the entry and exit of the military convoys that needed to travel a certain distance from the base for practice manoeuvres.  The women organized themselves in shifts for the so-called “Missile Watch” and by means of walkie-talkies, smoke signals and other similar alerts, they blocked the exit of the tanks that transported missiles.  Exercises that should have been carried out in the utmost secrecy were celebrated by a colourful group of happy women who were literally armed with tins of paint.  In this peaceful way, the women managed to convert military power into weakness.

The actions carried out by the women of Greenham Common had a huge media impact. On the 12th of December, 1982, the anniversary of the arrival of the missiles to the base, they appealed for people to “embrace the base” (EMBRACE GREENHAM COMMON).  It was the culminating moment of the whole process that had lasted for 19 years.  30,000 women carrying candles gathered around the fence of the base at night-time.  The aerial view of this massive warm embrace was seen on all British and international television stations.  Ann Pettitt, who some describe as the person who started this movement, relates the experience of that day:

“We organised it with a massive mailing of chain letters.  Each one of us had to make 10 photocopies and send them out to 10 acquaintances.  It was the day that 30,000 women came from Devon, Cornwall and all over Wales, women from all over the west of the country. Each woman had to bring a gift which symbolized life, the importance of life. The fence was completely covered with all kinds of things. Some women had hung photographs of their houses, some had hung diapers to represent their children, there was even one woman who hung her wedding dress on the fence and left it there. I had tears streaming down my face looking at these things, and I really was laughing and crying at the same time. I was told that there was a whole set of table linen, flowers, baby pictures and even embroidery and darning stitched on the fence.  Every morning the soldiers cut down these little bits of embroidery, and they always found them back again the next morning.”

The missiles of the camp were returned to the United States between 1991 and 1992 after the signing of various antinuclear agreements between the US and the USSR at the end of the cold war. From that moment on, the Camp of Greenham Common would always be associated with the peaceful and non-violent fight of hundreds of women who became the symbol of ingenuity.  While the USA and USSR competed for nuclear superiority, these women offered to the world an admirable and imaginative example of the fight for the defence of nature and, as they themselves assert, for life on earth.