28 April 2012

1983: Starting A New Year At Greenham Common...

As 1982, that famous/infamous year which brought us the Falklands War, ZX Spectrum, Channel 4 and deelyboppers ate its final bag of cheese and onion crisps and hitched up its leg warmers for the last time, the Greenham Common Women were making plans, which they put into action in the early hours of New Year's Day 1983...

Here's how the
Sunday Mirror, January 2, 1983, reported the events of 1 January:

Women peace campaigners staged a daring commando-style raid at the Greenham Common Cruise missile base at dawn yesterday.

At least fifty women, some of whom had slept in the undergrowth in the Berkshire countryside, went into action at 7 a.m.

They propped six ladders against the 12ft high perimeter fence, which stretches for nine miles round the missile base.
Then, laying old carpets across the barbed wire, they streamed over into the top secret Ministry of Defence property.

They were not spotted by special MOD police and American Air Force guards patrolling the fence.

By the time civilian police intervened, 44 demonstrators had got into the base where 96 American nuclear Cruise missiles are due to be sited in December.

The women, whooping and cheering, climbed on top of the 50ft silos which will house the missiles and sang peace songs.

One of the women left outside the fence, 29-year-0ld Deborah Law, said: "This is a symbol of hope for the New Year."

After 40 minutes, the demonstrators were carried down from the silos by police and taken by bus to Newbury police station, two miles away.

They were all charged with behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace, and will appear in court tomorrow.

Embarrassed base officials have launched a probe into the incident.

The Government has always maintained that there is no risk of missiles being hijacked by terrorists.

The origins of the Greenham Common Peace Camp stretched back to August 1981, when a group of women began a march from Cardiff, Wales, to Berkshire, England.

Their destination was the Greenham Common Airbase. The women were greatly concerned by the 1980 decision to site 96 Cruise missiles at the base.

The women arrived at the airbase on 5 September, 1981.

The march of the "Women For Life On Earth" led to the establishment of the Greenham Common Peace Camp.

In December 1982, 30,000 women held hands to "embrace the base".

Also in 1982, a decision was taken that men should not be allowed to join the Peace Camp.

The Greenham Common Peace Women were the subject of much controversy. In fact, perhaps I shouldn't call them "WoMEN" at all...

The title "wimmin" was apparently preferred by many of them. Misandry, of course. But then that was Feminism right from the get-go.

In his excellent book
20th Century Words (Oxford, 1999), John Ayto traces the word "wimmin" to 1983:

wimmin n (1983) A semi-phonetic spelling of women, adopted by some feminists as one not containing the ending -men.

20th Century Words notes that the word "wimmin" had been used in the past "for suggesting a particular sort (or class) of accent" - (a character in a book might pronounce "women" as "wimmin") - "but the polemical purpose marks out a new usage."

Mr Ayto traces two early uses of the word "wimmin" in feminist circles actually to Greenham Common:

1983 Sunday Times: Return to Greenham Common, view the wool webs, the papier maché masks, the eccentric re-spelling of words like 'wimmin', the improbable cosiness of the little tents in a landscape of wire fencing and policemen.

1983 Listener: Meanwhile, what of the Peace Women ('wimmin' in feminist placards) camped outside Greenham Common?

The first of the 96 Cruise missiles arrived at the base in November 1983. Thanks, Mrs Thatcher. Oh wait, wasn't she a wimmin? And she took us to war in 1982. A good friend of mine, a young and troubled teenager, went to Greenham in the early 1980s - where she experienced sexual abuse from some of the 'wimmin'. Funny old times.

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