We made our own world and I think that’s part of it, the conversation, the creativity, the sparking off each other. That’s definitely a whole world, a full world, isn’t it?Becky Griffiths, Yellow Gate, 1983
Today Out Of The Darkness: Greenham Voices 1981 – 2000 is officially out in the world! Our book is based on 18 months of research and collates interviews with over 100 Greenham Women. In it, and in their words, we share their intimate recollections of life on camp – the highs, the lows, the legacy of this remarkable 19 year protest, the largest women-led campaign since Suffrage. It’s a feminist treasure trove.
In 1981, a group of women marched from Cardiff to the Greenham Common RAF base in Newbury to protest the siting of US nuclear missiles on British soil. They formed what became the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and stayed there for almost twenty years.
We started our research because the vast majority of people under 40 who we asked about Greenham, hadn’t heard of the camp. They hadn’t heard that the women managed to get 30,000 women to hold hands around the 9 mile perimeter of the RAF base in December 1982 – one of the largest protests in European history. With the death of Helen John, a key figure in the Greenham campaign, we began to feel concerned that so many of the women’s experiences would go with them to their graves. Thousands of women visited Greenham across its 19 year history – the diversity of their stories promised to be vast and colourful. We were, as predicted, completely blown away by what was unearthed.
At the time of writing, I had a very young baby – my first child. My time was split between learning to be a mother and writing this book. In the quiet of my study, I would go and listen to the Greenham women speaking. I would hear their voices, sometimes for five hours straight in one day. Voices from all over the country, the world, an array of different accents and intonations. I felt sometimes like I was with them around the campfire. While I wished that there hadn’t ever been, and still wasn’t, a need for anti-nuclear protest, I imagined being at Greenham, and taking my child there too. Despite the hardships those women faced in their activism, I wished for more activism like this in today’s troubled world – an activism so of its particular time, so born from the awesome groundswell of the second wave.
I loved the stimulation of sitting there around the campfire, listening to women talk about their experiences, which were so very different from mine […] You know, there were women from very poor backgrounds who had had horrendous situations while growing up. There were children who’d been beaten by their fathers, or their husbands […] There were women who were on fire, who were there in the centre of their woman-ness, and ready to share it, and read to show you that there was another way – even if it wasn’t for you, showing you another way kind of opens up that narrow perspective that we have. That this is our own life.Sue Say, Yellow Gate
We named the book after Folk-singer and Greenham supporter Frankie Armstrong’s song. The Godmother of the Natural Voice Movement, Frankie’s performance of “Out of The Darkness” is breath-taking. She occupies her voice in a way that women are entirely trained not to do, her authentic sound bursting forth bravely, the rallying cry of womanhood. Rather than the light being the ideal, the oracle, the pure, Frankie celebrates the concept of darkness as a truth-teller, as something not to be feared, but as symbolic of true emotional engagement with the many layered world we live in. You can hear her sing it here at 1.28 mins.
Every woman is on a journey to unpick the damage patriarchy has done to her in order that she may grow closer to her own authentic self, and the Greenham women were pioneering in embracing that authenticity. During the writing of the book, it felt like time to again review how best I, as an individual, can contribute to this collective movement, to think again about deepening the connection to my authentic self and where that self can be of best use. I also felt renewed political conviction and creative fervour; the Greenham’s women’s energy is contagious. I experienced a lot of gratitude for the amazing women I have in my life and what they teach me every day. And I felt a refreshed, even more profound commitment to the importance of non-violence.
Listening to the women talk about everything from sex, to sisterhood, to life in prison was one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had personally and professionally. Learning about the women who shape our world, who develop and improve our world, strengthens our sense of sisterhood, metaphorically recreating the literal hand-holding at Embrace the Base.
40 years on, I hope this book will not just give a larger number of Greenham women a voice, and give us all the chance to remember the huge social and political importance of their campaign, but I also hope it will act as a formative and developmental reading experience for women in all stages of their lives. I encourage the reading of this book not just to absorb a fascinating history, but as a learning tool – the Greenham women teach us how to navigate our own lives as people, as women, and as activists. They provide real learning for men too. Most importantly, they encourage men to look at the violence that shapes our world and to reflect upon their own relationship with it.
On publication day, I want to thank and remember all the Greenham women who so generously shared their stories, the wonderful team at The History Press, and The Heritage Lottery South West who made our research possible.
Out of the Darkness: Greenham Voices 1981 – 2000 is available from all good bookshops. Get your copy here.