The matter of protest at Greenham Common in the 1980s was and is serious, but I remember the joy we felt, (my Labour Party friends and I, together with Hull CND people) as we set off in coachloads several times to protest the siting of US missiles on UK soil. The protests were covered heavily in the press.
I thought of myself as a peaceful protester at The Women’s Peace Camp. Now, I timidly suggest that the more aggressively active women won the nation’s day, during the years at Greenham. They were up against heavy-handed police; there seemed no respect for age. Yes, we did light candles and sing and fix toys and photos of our families on the fence. However, the essence of a day at Greenham for me was activity: women rushing past and armed, in the ditch area below the fence, very much like a medieval castle siege must have been. Some had bolt cutters and unlike me, were fearless – handed a pair to take care of for minutes only, I was terrified of arrest.
One particular week the ‘benders’, made by the women from overarching saplings and branches, were destroyed by the police and bailiffs. TV footage showed scenes of ensuing battles. A friend suggested we drive down to ‘bear witness’. I expected violent scenes. However, the sun shone. Women sat and made bracelets in the grassy, wooded areas which led up to the fence. No police appeared. I had a strong feeling of guilt at being inactive and as if on the best holiday.
My feeling is that the women of the camp seemed separate from protesting visitors. I can remember no greetings or hugs. Currently, in 2019, at the camps set up by anti-fracking protesters, that warmth is a feature. This was probably just how things were then, in that Cold War period.
In the town, I experienced being shunned in queues by other shoppers; hostile comments were made. The smell of smoke from the camp fires clung to us. Serious protest often means wearing clothing very different from everyday wear. I picture the Greenham women fondly – dungarees and heavy boots, tousled hair. I learned from them for a subsequent life of protest.