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Greenham Common peace camp

(Photograph) - What's the story?

Photograph by Maggie Murray

On the day this picture was taken, December 12, 1983, 50,000 women holding mirrors linked arms around the United States Air Force base at Greenham Common, Berkshire. "Embrace the base" was the cry to which women from all over the UK had responded. But it was not a message of support; it was a gesture of resistance.

In August 1981, Nato had decided to site 96 ground-launched cruise missiles at Greenham, a disused RAF base. In protest, 36 women and four babies in pushchairs walked 110 miles from Cardiff to the base, where they set up a peace camp outside the main entrance, known as Yellow Gate. Soon, other camps, named after colours of the rainbow, sprung up outside other gates on the nine-mile perimeter fence.

In November 1983, the missiles arrived, and the protests became a prominent part of British politics. Although the numbers at the Greenham camps fluctuated, with many visiting on key weekends and only a hard core living on in harsh winter conditions, their back-to-nature lifestyle and unshakeable convictions were a constant focus for contempt among right-wingers. And they had one thing in common - they were all women.

Living without running water in old vans, tents and "benders" - live branches bent over and covered with plastic or tarpaulins - they were caricatured as unwashed, crazy man-haters. For many young believers in world peace, Greenham women were heroines whose dedication enabled them to cope with deprivation and violent evictions by military and police.

Such non-violent actions could be traced from a long line of peaceful protest, springing out of the original Greenham women's links with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, famous for its marches in the 1950s and 1960s to the nuclear base at Aldermaston. It also had roots in Mahatma Gandhi's pacifism. As Sarah Hipperson (originally Hipman) of Yellow Gate said: "We don't do it that way (violently). We must never do it that way. We're beaten if we ever do it that way. We can stay here forever provided we're not violent."

The Greenham women were continuing a tradition of feminist activism going back to the beginning of the 20th century. The struggles of women socialists and trade unionists in the United States resulted in the establishment of US National Woman's Day in 1910. A year later the idea was adopted by female activists in Europe and March 8 was designated International Women's Day.

Cruise missiles were eventually removed from Greenham in March 1991, 18 months after the fall of the Berlin wall, and, at the end of September 1992, the US air force left the base. During the 1990s, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the peace movement became much more widely accepted. Whether this was due to the Greenham peace protests or not is still debated. Not until January 1, 2000, did the last protester leave, and Greenham Common became a business park and housing development.


News history: for love of earth site, from the original group of marchers: History of the peace camp: Imperial War Museum's archive of testimony: Women's Day: www.un.orgecosocdevgeninfowomenwomday97.htm

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