By Di McDonald
Yes – the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp made a difference to the viability of basing a ground-launched nuclear weapons system in a democracy. It was a political and personal privilege to be able to make this protest.
Politically, we had to take the chance offered by the new US system of bringing nuclear weapons into the heart of our communities in five European countries. Clearly in the USSR it was not possible for citizens to oppose their government so directly. We decided to meet the military face to face, but nonviolently.
Michael Heseltine, Minister of Defence at the time, claimed that cruise would “melt into the countryside”, when it left Greenham on exercise. Well it never did. Cruisewatch was a brilliant mixed network of totally dedicated activists that tracked and monitored the convoy when it went off base, first to various sites but in the end only to the wilds of Salisbury Plain. Some of us would treck miles and miles through the night, sometimes in snow, until we found the copse where the convoy was hiding. Then we’d stagger back to a road and a public phone box to get a message with the OS co-ordinates relayed to women at camp so they could come and protest. There were no mobile phones in those days. CB radios were excellent, but easily blocked or tapped.
Personally, my family, friends and local peace groups all helped make it possible for me to leave the children for a few days each week, and for a week at a time once the cruise convoy was dispersed off-base every month. They wanted the job done and their contribution was to enable me to do my bit for all of us.
Living at camp, watching for hours on the Plain, being dog tired, cutting the fence, being in court or in prison were all worth it because it was making a difference. We knew that every attempt at a slick military operation ended in failure and very often, in humiliating chaos for the USAF. We were experts in chaos: no orders taken or given, hanging around so long that we eventually found ourselves in the right place at the right time, having the flexibility to change our minds and plans as we went along.
I learnt so much. Singing and dancing were empowering protests against the military and police. We were all ages – sixteen to ninety. Everyone had an equal say and would be listened to. We conquered fear in solidarity and we threw away conventional dignity, replacing it with self-confidence and determination. Risks were there to be taken, knowing that we had to win this battle for Life on Earth.
Of the countries destined for US Cruise deployment, only the Netherlands managed to stop cruise missiles arriving at USAF Woensdrecht. The base was made ready but a combination of a Peace Camp, citizen and parliamentary opposition proved an effective resistance. If there had been no Greenham, the USAF would have walked all over England, Germany, Italy and Belgium and an INF Treaty would have been hard, if not impossible to forge. The US had already lost so many battles, mainly that of the essential military requirement of secrecy, that they really needed a truce, to withdraw with some semblance of dignity.