approximate reading time: minutes
Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp 1983–1984
Cafe Royal Books
In my early twenties I was constructing a new set of ideas to guide me in life. It was a busy, educational time for a young man from a working class background, who had been the kind of teenaged lad who referred to a girlfriend as my ‘old lady’, in homage to the wild, untamed misogynist Hells Angels, and for whom being called ‘queer’ (or any of the other, numerous homophobic insults favoured by the comedians of TV’s Wheeltappers and Shunters Club) was the ultimate insult. Young women were birds. Bints. ‘It’. Teenage girls who liked sex were occasionally slags. I didn’t pick up this language from my dad, who was old fashioned but respectful (and a little afraid) of women. It was gained from the macho environment of the times. And there was simply no available information that gave me pause, not until punk rock came along and the slow process of becoming a bit woke started.
Meeting young women who were confident and informed enough to challenge me helped. Seeing women in bands also helped. Watching The Slits supporting The Clash on their White Riot tour had an effect, not one I could have described properly, but something that got beneath my skin. Siouxie Sue, Poly Styrene, young women who sounded as ordinary as I was, demanded to be heard. And, as with the message put out by Rock Against Racism, this way led to fun. Who wanted to go to gigs or pubs, surrounded by meathead males when you could be at a concert or party with bright young women who could hold their own in a row in the kitchen? Much more interesting. And illuminating.
Eventually, by the time of the events covered in this, as ever neat and to the point pamphlet, I was well on the way to being right-on. But Greenham Common was something else. I knew women (womxn, wimmin etc) who had spent time there and others who vowed to go. It wasn’t exactly forbidden for anti-nuclear men to go (if I remember rightly there might have been a ‘mixed space’, for a while) but this was an explicitly female protest. The nature of which seems to be summed up by the incredible photo of the women weaving and dancing around a line of much taller policemen. Militant, brave, good humoured and very hard to respond to by an establishment used to using force and violence.
So I didn’t see for myself. In fact, was happy not to go, in the same way I never joined a miner’s picket; I didn’t want to be a tourist. It was possible to support in other ways but the simplicity of the Greenham Common protest was, for a while, unbeatable. It made the whole charade of ‘security’ look like the penis fest it was, the way that a motley group of people (women! No less.) could infiltrate a nuclear base and take something as basic as a hammer to the cone of a fighter airplane (flying cock). The way that the fence was decorated with colourful bits of wool and collage (‘protection’). Simply sitting in the way of a nuclear bomb transporter (penis on wheels) could disrupt the war game exercises. The argument was clear and, for those who who saw and heard it, especially before the concerted attempts in the media to match the protest with Russian/Soviet anti-British machinations, it had an effect.
Fuck you, was the message. In the most loving, earth-embracing way.
Personally, the most fun, for me, was occasionally bumping into some twat (sorry, some words are just too good to lose, even in the name of gender equality), OK, some dickhead who assessed what the women were doing based on their looks, on their grubby faces and over-sized jumpers. Which, to me, reinforced the bravery and new thinking behind the protest. Fuck you, was the message. In the most loving, earth-embracing way.
Was it ‘successful’? If success is measured like a pound of apples (453 grams), a finite event, then, no. The bombs are still there and men are still warring, murdering on an industrial scale. That’s unlikely to ever stop. But did it provide a millisecond in the epoch of time when hope prevailed? Undoubtedly. And that is priceless. Buy this for your daughters, for yourself. Keep the record on your bookshelves, just in case we forget or the memories are erased.
Janine Wiedel - Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp 1983–1984, available from Café Royal Books, here
Janine Wiedel interview in Outsideleft, here