To this day, whenever I meet a woman in the peace movement we inevitably end up asking each other: ‘Were you at Greenham? Me too! Were you there when…?’ Whatever else is forgotten about the 20th century, it won’t be that outpost of NATO and the women who alerted the world to its horrors. And it was because we were women that the protest was so effective.
I was living in London at the time so Greenham was the obvious base to go to – but even if it hadn’t been I’d have been drawn to what was happening there. It seemed to me entirely logical that women should oppose war, and entirely necessary in those days that they should insist on it being women-only. It was visionary and powerful; there was even talk of a ‘space for women’ emerging from it. Something completely new was happening here, perhaps the birth of a new consciousness. I was horrified by the weapons and intrigued by the movement in equal measure: either way I wanted to be a part of it.
I wasn’t able to go and live at the camp but I did go to several protests there. I think it was the first time outside school that I’d been involved in a women-only event, and the energy and sense of freedom were quite striking: I felt the full force of the word ‘sisterhood.’
The protests that stick in my mind were the times when we were asked to bring bright-coloured ribbons and yarn to decorate the fence. I cannot describe the incalculable power of decorating a cruel barbed-wire fence with colourful emblems: it felt like taming a wild beast. This, the ribbons seemed to say, is the power of women. Men (some men) make war: we make peace. We tame the beast. Nowadays yarn-bombing is common and its effects well-documented but back then, this was brand new. Plenty of people ridiculed the idea; plenty more said it would achieve nothing – but the incredible strength of women sitting arm-in-arm round the fence, our human links mirroring and defying the chain-links in the fence, cannot be denied. And the song still sings inside me:
You can’t kill the spirit
she is like a river
bold and strong, she goes on and on…
I looked up some pictures of Greenham a few weeks ago. It’s very peaceful now, the silos sleeping under grass and the fence replaced by trees, and I thought, we did that. Sure, there were other factors in shutting it down and of course the powers-that-be said our protests achieved nothing (they would, wouldn’t they?) but we know the truth.
Women can achieve anything.