The Greenham Common protests were of seminal importance to the peace movement and the changing nature of protest itself, making them a crucial component of our latest exhibition Writing in Times of Conflict.
Here at Senate House Library we have fascinating material on the Greenham Common anti-nuclear protests of the early 1980s including photographs of the demonstrations, pamphlets and books written by the protestors themselves and by contemporary observers. Many of the archives originate from the Ron Heisler archives collection (MS1236).
With so much material it was a challenge deciding which items to display. However, the items selected convey the power of both words and protest in the quest for peace. Researching this part of the exhibition was also a voyage of memory for me. I was a teenage activist in Essex in the 1980s, witnessed some of the Greenham protests and even took part in some of them. Looking at the photographs and reading the prose about Greenham evokes the passions and fear of that period, and is also a reminder of the intense distrust of authority which lay behind the protests. This is something that we can see in other works displayed in the exhibition whether they date from 1919 or 2019.
As part of my research, I learned about the influence that the Greenham Common protests have had on feminist thought and the surprisingly mixed legacy they have left. On the one hand, Greenham women were seen as leading the struggle against the patriarchy. For example, the protestors often foreswore their given names as insidious examples of a male-dominated society. Instead, they used names for each other that they felt more comfortable with. On the other hand, there are other more critical schools of thought which claim that Greenham Common was at best an irrelevance to the feminist struggle. Some of these essays are in Breaching the Peace (1983) and Raging Womyn: In Reply to Breaching the Peace (1984), copies of which we feature in the exhibition.
We hope visitors to Writing in Times of Conflict will be inspired by what they’ve seen and will reflect on the importance of Greenham Common in terms of the debates about peace now and in future.