From Greenham to Menwith: The women’s peace campaign at Menwith Hill

In 1981 a small group of women and children marched from Cardiff to Greenham Common to protest against the siting of cruise missiles at the U.S military base in Newbury, Berkshire. They were called “Women For Life on Earth” and they triggered the birth of a new non-violent direct action movement and the biggest women-only peace protest the world has ever seen.

Upon arrival at the base some women, in Suffragette style, chained themselves to the main gate. Legend has it that the base commander came out to greet the women and with a sneer informed them that as far as he was concerned, they could stay there as long as they liked. So stay they did, in their thousands, for approximately the next 12 years, long enough to see the last U.S soldier leave by the gates they had built.

It was clear to this new Women’s Peace Movement that peace was a feminist issue

In December 1982 30,000 women joined hands around the nine and a half mile perimeter fence at the base and followed this up the year after with an even bigger “Embrace The Base” protest. Women took direct action against the military machine that they saw as a direct threat to themselves and to the poorest women and children of the world. While the military boy’s games went on behind the razer wire, and trillions were being spent on weapons of mass destruction, women protested that so many die without clean water or food or medicine, that hospitals and schools were underfunded, that women’s refuges had to run on charity and mourned the many killed in war. It was clear to this re-emerging new Women’s Peace Movement that peace was a feminist issue, and while men were making decisions at that base every day that affected the lives of women and children around the world, women decided to take some power back, and were making their own decisions and taking their own actions, to stop the warmongers in their tracks.

Greenham Common has now been restored as a common. The local council is taking down the fence and reintroducing native trees, protecting and encouraging wildlife. The silos still stand, as an indication of what used to go on there, the huge bomb proof bunkers for soldiers on 24hr watch, practicing the launch of their nuclear weapons. Now nettles and birch trees are cracking the concrete and forcing their way up through the runway. As the common is reclaimed at last, new protests have been growing for many years at other military bases around Britain.

Greenham touched so many women, not just those who went there, but so many around the world who heard about it on the news, read about it in papers and magazines. Women from Greenham carried that spirit with them, to their local towns and cities, to their local bases. Some of those women turned their attention to Menwith Hill, the largest American military spy base in the world, in the middle of the North Yorkshire dales, seven miles from Harrogate. A permanent women’s peace camp was established there in 1993, and remained there, through various evictions, for the next five years.

Women’s voices and women’s actions are needed now, more than ever

I was fortunate enough to be part of that permanent protest, and am now involved in the monthly camps and annual protests and events we organize. Women’s voices and women’s actions are needed now, more than ever. While the casualties rise in Iraq, Menwith Hill will be monitoring and translating telecommunications from the area, providing information on terrain and weather conditions, targets and military locations. The U.S military is busying itself planning new wars on Iran, North Korea and any other countries that won’t play ball with Uncle Sam. Those peoples that are displaced in wars started by the West are then attacked again by the growing racism and hostility towards those who seek asylum in our rich country. While our government breeds hatred and ignorance towards those seeking safety, we harbour the terrorists who start these wars on our own shores at the many U.S. and U.K. bases around Britain. Bases like Menwith will be playing an important role in the US/UK war drive.

We are calling on women to take direct action to stop the imperialist war mongers at Menwith Hill; an important strategic military base, no war could go ahead without Menwith; and peace cannot exist while it is there. The reasons those women at Greenham so many years ago changed their lives, gave up their jobs, lived outside in all weathers through hard times, risked prison, and dedicated their lives to peace, are no less valid now. Our government has made us complicit in its war crimes, against the voices of the people. Statistics show time and time again that the first to suffer in all wars are innocent women and children, and the rising number of refugees displaced by war are majority women and children. It is vital therefore, that women are at the forefront of the peace movement, leading and organising protests and actions, not only women’s actions, but in the wider movement as a whole. Women-only protests are part of the history of the peace movement, they are not in competition with, or against, mixed demonstrations – they add to and enrich the whole. Women’s peace groups and demonstrations are empowering and successful, they have a record of achievement which is admirable and it is sad that the new generation of politicized young people involved in the Stop The War movement do not often see women’s peace camps and demonstrations as an option, if they get to hear about them at all.

I think its time to change that! Women – Do your bit for the (anti)war effort! We would like to invite all women to join us this December at Menwith Hill for a weekend peace camp on the anniversary of the “Embrace The Base” at Greenham, 12-15th December 2003. We are specifically inviting new women who have never been to a women’s peace camp before and maybe never to a women-only political group before. Come and find out how fun and empowering and welcoming this politicized and aware environment can be! Over 100 women attended last year and we would like to double that this year. There will be speakers from different areas of the peace movement, discussion groups, nice food cooked on our camp fire, music, debate, plotting and planning! We shall discuss options for direct action and women can take part in, or organize what direct actions and protests they feel comfortable with. You don’t have to get arrested – though you can if you want to! We are organizing transport from London, if you are part of a Union or Student Group and think you can organize transport from your town or publicise the camp please get in touch. We will be providing lifts from nearby stations Harrogate and Leeds. Yes, it will be cold! Bring warm clothes, tent, sleeping bag, waterproofs, communal food or a contribution towards food, musical instruments, songs, friends…

Go on – 30,000 women can’t be wrong…!

Contact Details

Helen John
Tel: 01943464584
Email: [email protected]
Transport from London – Sophie Bolt
Tel: 07930235791.

Finn Mackay lives in London and helps to organise monthly protests and trips to Menwith Hill. [email protected]