Dr Ruth Lewis reflects on the Greenham Women: Actions and Impacts, Then and Now event held in Newcastle
Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp is a powerful part of the history of women’s activism and peace activism. In the summer of 1983, thousands of women from across the country participated in the Star Marches – a simultaneous protest action which saw them mass at Greenham in Berkshire to protest against nuclear weapons. Their arrests made headline news. On 11th December 1983, 50,000 women gathered to continue the protest, including a group who travelled from Newcastle. To mark the 30th anniversary of the Greenham Common protests, a group of academics from Northumbria University, Newcastle held a commemorative, celebratory event in December 2013 and discussed the impact that this historic event has had on activism today. This was an inter-disciplinary effort: Ruth Lewis, Carol Stephenson and Sue Regan (Social Sciences) worked with, Karen Ross (Media) and Julie Scanlon (English) to merge their research, activist and political interests.
Nearly 100 people – mostly women – attended the day. Almost all were members of the public (with some academic colleagues from Northumbria, Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland) who are interested in the story of Greenham Women’s Peace Camp. Many had been involved in some way (living at the camp, visiting for demonstrations, publicising or raising funds to support the camp); others were not involved or were too young but attended the conference to hear about the legacy of Greenham for individual women, for local activism since the 1980s, including its links with contemporary women’s activism in the North East.
As is so often the way when you get a group of feminist activists in a room together, the mood was nostalgic, upbeat, celebratory, and energised. Participants shared bittersweet memories, expressed their anger at enduring injustice, demonstrated their ongoing commitment to changing their worlds.
The day was a celebratory, highly interactive mixture of presentations, talks, discussion, singing, and films. A series of speeches, storytelling and activities – such as a ‘show and tell’ session where participants shared their Greenham stories and a replica Greenham fence on which they hung their memorabilia – reminded the participants about the camp, and women’s strength and resilience. Local Making Waves Choir performed and led us in singing songs from then and now, which were both moving and humourous. We screened the acclaimed film-maker Beeban Kidron’s documentary, Carry Greenham Home and we made our own film of the event, with the help of a group of our Media undergraduates, available at: http://youtu.be/fWEPk07WWM4
Sue Regan, PhD student, provided a nostalgic and humorous reminder of the historical context in which the Greenham Peace Camp emerge (remember the ‘Gone with the Wind’ poster featuring Regan and Thatcher?!). Other speakers included: Mary Mellor, Emeritus Professor in Sociology at Northumbria University who shared her experiences of being at the Peace Camp; Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp (Texas Tech University and Durham University) presented their research about women’s experiences of women-only spaces for political organising; Roweena Russell, local activist, talked about the recent emergence of the of the North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG); and Lizi Gray, Sociology student at Northumbria University and local activist, shared her experiences of organising the local SlutWalk and other contemporary feminist activism.
As is so often the way when you get a group of feminist activists in a room together, the mood was nostalgic, upbeat, celebratory, and energised. Participants shared bittersweet memories, expressed their anger at enduring injustice, demonstrated their ongoing commitment to changing their worlds. Recording and researching women’s activism is a priority for this group of academics, who plan to develop a research project inspired by this event.