Anyone who grew up, as I did, during or just after the second world war, must have wondered how they would have behaved if the country had ever been occupied. Would they have been part of the resistance, or a collaborator, or just tried to keep their head down?
The women of Greenham Common were, I always felt, exactly the kind of people who would have formed part of a resistance against fascism and totalitarianism. They were committed, they were courageous, they were fearless and they were prepared to expose themselves to ridicule and worse for their beliefs. They were willing to live outside in home-made shelters and taxing conditions through all weathers.
The name Greenham Common came to symbolise resistance against the odds, a feeling that if people were determined enough and persistent enough, even the most powerful military machine in the world could be halted or disrupted. To the tens of thousands of people who travelled to attend demonstrations there and the millions who read with incredulity of what was happening, Greenham Common was both inspirational and educational. Greenham women inspired many others to risk imprisonment to support them because their strength and solidarity were so awesome. Had it not been an all-women protest, it might never have gathered such support as so many women, myself included, felt drawn to be part of that magnificent demonstration of female strength. We went and were moved and inspired by the joy and determination we found there.
What difference did it all make? The Greenham women were the most dramatic and visible part of an international movement against nuclear weapons that shaped the political context for agreements between the USA and USSR to drastically reduce the number of nuclear weapons. They showed people that however the odds were stacked it was possible to protest and survive. Democracy in action. It encouraged others, particularly women, to recognise that anything was possible.
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, took her anti-war camp to the gates of President Bush's ranch in Texas. She was part of the tradition of the Greenham women, part of the tradition of the suffragettes and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
These are lessons that we constantly have to relearn and remember. We owe a dept of gratitude to the people prepared to back their beliefs with their actions - whatever the risks. If we let that go, we will turn into cowed and passive citizens and lose any pride in ourselves.
This is the foreword to Common Ground: The Story of Greenham by David Fairhall, published by IB Tauris.
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