‘We owe them so much’: Walk in honor of the women of Greenham Common | Greenham Common

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Forty years ago a small group of women, accompanied by a few men and children in strollers, left their homes in Wales to protest the arrival of US nuclear warheads at RAF Greenham Common. The steps they took that day will lead to the establishment of the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp, which at its peak brought together over 70,000 women for direct action and became the largest protest led by of women since women’s suffrage.

Now, hundreds more will walk 130 miles to mark the camp’s 40th anniversary and call for the original women who led it to be remembered and respected as much as the suffragists.

March coordinator Rebecca Mordan, whose mother took her to Greenham Common as a child, said she wanted to publicize the march and the 19-year-old camp that followed and cement the place of women in history.

“These are the biggest events led by women since suffrage, and these women radicalized a generation and had as much impact as the suffragists,” she said. “We owe them a huge sum. “

The the memorial march will leave Cardiff on August 26, arriving at Greenham Common in Berkshire on September 3 after retracing the original route taken in 1981 by 36 people. More than 200 people have signed up – mostly women, but also men and children, much like the original walk, Mordan said.

“I really love that we are walking in each other’s footsteps – finding out what it’s like to be an activist today, finding out what it was like to be a woman from Greenham. There are going to be so many positive and powerful structures that will come out of this, like the creation of a Greenham network. “

Peace protesters sit on the road to block one of the gates to RAF Greenham Common in December 1983. Photograph: Mirrorpix / Getty Images

The walk, created with many women who had walked to Greenham or who lived and visited the camp during its lifetime, will stop overnight at the same locations as the original – Newport, Chepstow, Bristol , Bath, Melksham, Devizes, Marlborough and Hungerford – with a “thank you ceremony” held in each followed by a weekend of festivities in the township. A two-day bike ride will set off from Cardiff to Greenham Common on September 2.

Ann Pettitt, who conceived the original idea in 1981, said she remembered spending most of her time working in telephone booths trying, and especially failing, to arouse the interest of the press.

“It’s wonderful and it’s important that we remember what happened. There haven’t been a lot of actions carried out only by women and of course it has been successful, ”she said. “We wanted to sound the alarm to the public about the imminent and real catastrophic threat that the nuclear arms race was spiraling out of control.”

Sue Lent, another of the early walkers, said she left with her husband and one-year-old baby only expecting to walk for one day, but was so well received that she had continued to Greenham. “It was a bit like going on a school trip and feeling a bit of trepidation but also excitement,” she said.

A group of women blocks RAF Greenham Common in support of 38 women tried for obstruction and breach of the peace in February 1983
A group of women blocks RAF Greenham Common in support of 38 women tried for obstruction and breach of the peace in February 1983. Photography: Photofusion / Rex / Shutterstock

Once in Greenham, some of the group decided that if they were to get the public’s attention, they should chain up at the base. “And then they stayed,” she said.

Despite national and local opposition, including vigilante groups that attacked the camp, more and more people have come to stay there for a day or longer. In 1982, the camp was declared only for women and in December of the same year, 30,000 women joined the base in the “embrace the base” event.

“That was the moment you felt it sent a message to the whole world,” Pettitt said. “The day before, I toured the camp and we could hear voices from all over Europe and elsewhere. It was just amazing, it gave me chills.

On New Years Eve that same year, women used ladders to climb over the barbed wire fence and danced above the missile silos. In April 1983, around 70,000 demonstrators formed a 23 km human chain. The women have been deported, arrested and imprisoned on several occasions – and in 1989 22-year-old Welsh activist Helen Thomas was killed when she was struck – accidentally, according to an investigation – by a West Police vehicle. Midlands.

Greenham became one of the longest protests in history – and while the last missiles left the base in 1991 as a result of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, women remained in camp until ‘in 2000 to fight for a memorial at the site. and ensure that it has been released to the public.

“I’m proud to have been there,” Lent said. “I think what Greenham is teaching us is that you should never doubt that a small number of people can make a difference. Even if you think there is nothing you can do, you should do it anyway.

Pettitt, the author of Walk to Greenham, said the need to protest is greater than ever. “Now I believe the imminent and current threat is climate change and I hope the women on this commemorative march will be able to advocate for the need for urgent action.”

Mordan, the artistic director of Scary little girls, the feminist production company coordinating the march, also created Greenham Women Everywhere with Kate Kerrow at Heroin Collective and with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Over the course of 18 months, they interviewed around 200 women who were in Greenham and, with them, created a website with over 200 hours of audio and photos and written testimonials.

“I realized that no one younger than me seemed to have heard of Greenham, which was just the most outrageous culture theft,” Mordan said. “I just thought we couldn’t get them all to die one day, and so nobody tells anyone about it.” It would be horrible and we cannot let this happen.


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