The Revolutionary Resilience Of Women Ignored 'til This Day

‘There will be enough cruise nuclear missiles to destroy the world’

Photograph by Alamy

A remarkable sight where mothers were resisting police, camping in the mud, chaining themselves to military bases all in the name of removing nuclear missiles. It involved women who firmly refused for missiles capable of inflicting four times the damage at Hiroshima to be sent into Greenham Common, Berkshire.

With an inclusive discussion I had with British peace activist Rebecca Johnson, who lived in the Greenham Women’s Peace camp for 5 years, I will outline the extraordinary nature and reaction this protest made.

Photograph by Ed Barber

A time where a woman’s place was not at home, but at a police-ridden protest. Declaring in February 1982 that it will only involve women, amplified this intense campaign against powerful leaders at that time.

It was truly a historic part of the feminist movement, especially as it involved women from all ages, classes and circumstances meaning it was an environment where women felt comfortable away from male presence.

It also provided a safe place for the queer community to occupy and escape from the homophobic 1980s. However, their overriding presence in the camps was quickly noted by the media who negatively generalised those in the camps as ‘dirty, filthy lesbians’. The media never failed to criticise the movement, annoyed at the women's relentless efforts to achieve their goal.

The symbolic nature of the protests

I found myself in awe of what these women physically did. Their first action set the stone for how tough and indestructible they were going to be by forming an 14-mile human chain of 30,000 women holding hands. Twice. Using symbolism was notorious and was used to undermine the soldiers at the base but also those high up in government.

In April 1983, 200 women dressed up as teddy bears and had a picnic inside the base. This created a clashing contrast with the heavily militarised base as the costumes were symbolic of children and innocence. This was to reinforce their basis of protecting their children and future generations. Wearing black to ‘foreshadow’ a period of mourning if no action was to made, silent vigils where they would hold up mirrors so soldiers could reflect on themselves, were all actions that solidified their cause.

Photograph by Hazel Pegg

How the media undermined them

There was simply no scapegoat for the Greenham Common Women. They completely ignored the traditional sense of women groups which involved formal structures, uniforms and most significantly a leader. Everyone was equal. Everyone had their voice and own ways of revolting. This made it incredibly strenuous for blame to be pinned or for means of communication, because who exactly could they reach out to and condemn.

The media was particularly harsh to the movement, ignoring the Greenham women’s identity as strong-willed mothers who cared about the welfare of their family and the world. A heavy focus on eroding their presence was what the newspapers front headlines displayed.

Despite this, the Greenham Women accomplished the removal of nuclear missiles in under 2 whole decades making it one of the longest and biggest female led protests in history.

Photograph from Library Live

Discussions with Greenham activist, Rebecca Johnson

I had the pleasure to be in a discussion with Rebecca Johnson who came into my school and had a Q&A session with a group of students. She firstly gave us background knowledge about herself and how she got into Greenham Peace camp. She did focus on her academic life briefly, about how she first studied Physics in university but she changed to Philosophy and Politics.

She received a question ‘what made you keep going and not give up?’. She talked about how there were times where the women felt unmotivated and not want to continue but this never got widespread. The constant evictions they faced in the camps had a big toll on the women.

A fellow student Jane Mills also in the discussion wrote this ‘I think that Rebecca Johnson’s achievements should be a reminder to all of us that no challenge is too difficult for you to tackle as long as you stay determined’. Jane’s article also touched on how many were beaten and even arrested for the first time in their lives yet they still demonstrated great strength, applying pressure on the government.

Photograph from Nobelwomeninitiative

Rebecca talked about how elated she was when the Russian President Gorbachev mentioned the Greenham woman in a conference and actually thanked them. How they got credit from such a powerful man was certainly a huge surprise for Rebecca considering they were women and were so heavily involved in a political disarray between countries.

We also had the privilege to hold the Nobel Prize award which she brought in. In 2017, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize and it was a honour to talk to someone who actively participated in the protests and hear her experiences there.

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