Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was a peace camp established to protest at nuclear weapons being sited at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England. The camp began in September 1981 after a Welsh group, Women for Life on Earth, arrived at Greenham to protest against the decision of the British government to allow cruise missiles to be based there. The first blockade of the base occurred in May 1982 with 250 women protesting, during which 34 arrests were made. The camp was active for 19 years and disbanded in 2000.
The first instance of the Greenham Common Peace Camp came about when, on September 1981, 36 women chained themselves to the base fence in protest against nuclear weapons. On 29 September 1982, the women were evicted by Newbury District Council but set up a new camp nearby within days. In December 1982, 30,000 women responded to a chain letter sent out and joined hands around the base at the Embrace the Base event.
The camp became well-known when on 1 April 1983, about 70,000 protesters formed a 14-mile (23 km) human chain from Greenham to Aldermaston and the ordnance factory at Burghfield. The media attention surrounding the camp "prompted the creation of other peace camps at more than a dozen sites in Britain and elsewhere in Europe". Another encircling of the base occurred in December 1983, with 50,000 women attending. Sections of the fence were cut and there were hundreds of arrests.
On 4 April 1984, the women were again evicted from the Common; again, by nightfall many had returned to reform the camp. In January 1987, although Parliament had been told that there were no longer any women at Greenham, small groups of women cut down parts of the perimeter fence at Greenham Common every night for a week.
The camp consisted of nine smaller camps at various gates around the base. The first was called Yellow Gate and others included Blue Gate with its New Age focus, Violet Gate with a religious focus, and Green Gate, which was women-only and did not accept male visitors.
The last missiles left the camp in 1991 as a result of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but the camp remained in place until 2000, after protesters won the right to house a memorial on the site. Although the missiles had been removed from the base, the camp was continued as part of the protest against the forthcoming UK Trident programme. The last four protesters to leave the site included Sarah Hipperson, who had been part of the camp protest for a total of nineteen years.
The old camp was inaugurated as a Commemorative and Historic Site on 5 October 2002, when seven standing stones encircled the 'Flame' sculpture representing a camp fire. It was demolished in September 2013 after being vandalised a number of times, three of the stones being stolen.
In February 1982 it was decided that the protest should involve women only. This facet was important as the women were using their identity as mothers to legitimise the protest against these nuclear weapons, all in the name of the safety of their children and future generations. The female-only nature of the peace camps also allowed women to assert their own dominance in a political arena often reserved for men. The women of Greenham integrated themselves into these male-dominated political spaces not through violence but through their mere presence at a "male" location such as the military base RAF Greenham Common.
There were several instances when women entered the camp, thus entering "male" space. On New Year's Eve 1982, the women broke into the base for the first time; 44 women climbed over the military base's fence and climbed on top of the silos and danced around on them for hours. All the women were arrested, and 36 were imprisoned. On 1 April 1983, 200 women entered the base dressed as teddy bears to protest — a "child" symbol like the teddy bear was a stark contrast to the highly militarised atmosphere of the base; the women again were highlighting the safety of their children and future generations of children.
The next major event was 'Reflect the Base' on 11 December 1983, when 50,000 women circled the base to protest against the cruise missiles which had arrived three weeks earlier. The day started as a silent vigil where women held up mirrors as to allow the base to symbolically look back at itself and its actions; however, the day ended with hundreds of arrests as the women pulled down large sections of the fence.
Upon breaching the barriers and entering the camp, the women were making the statement that they would not stay at home and do nothing, as women are traditionally expected to do while the men take care of the serious "male" issues. Their refusal to go home at the end of each day was a challenge against the traditional notion that a woman's place was in the home. Many media outlets even questioned the behaviour of the Greenham women: if their children were so important to them, they asked, then why were they not home with them? The media tended to ignore the Greenham women's collective identity of "women as mothers" protecting the children and largely focused on the illegitimacy of the camp, describing it as a witches' coven laden with criminal activity, with the women posing a threat to family values and the state.
Greenham Commons Women’s Peace Camp inspired related peace movements in the U.K. as well as abroad. One such movement was Window Peace, a year-long live-in performance art installation in New York City. As a tribute to the protestors of the original movement, who at the time had been living outside of the Greenham RAF camp, women artists and activists created a rotation series of art installations in an empty storefront along West Broadway in Manhattan.
The Window Peace installation, originated in 1986 by artist Susan Kleckner, took place in the Soho Zat storefront, located in lower Manhattan. As had been the established by the Greenham Commons movement, only women artists could participate; however men artists were allowed to participate if they had been invited by a woman. Each week for an entire year, beginning December 12, 1986 until November 11, 1987, women artists occupied the storefront window with their own works of art. Among the artists, were Susan Kleckner (also the originator), Ann Snitow, Dianna Moonmade, Sharon Jaddis, Tequila Minksy, Anne Meiman, Carol Jacobsen, Joyce George, Jane Winter, Marsha Grant, The Women of the Greenham and Seneca Movements, Catherine Allport, Eileen Jones, Susann Ingle, Sharon Smith, Linda Montano, Dominque Mazur, Cenen, Pamela Schumaker, Judy Trupin, Connie Samaras, E.A. Racette, Peggey Lowenberg and Maggie Ens, Kathy Constantinides, Elaine Pratt, Coco Gordon, Sally Jacque, Kay Roberts, Anna Rubin, Renee Rockoff, Harriet Glazier, Karen Marshall, Paula Allen, among others.