The foundations of International Women’s Day are rooted within socialist and communist histories, as a labour movement, as protest, as resistance. In the early part of the twentieth century, women left work, went on strike, demonstrated, and marched for suffrage, equality, an end to violence, and for peace. After hearing the sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s Davos Speech—“Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”—and witnessing thousands of young people marching in protest against the government’s failure to act against climate change, I was reminded of the Greenham Common Womens’ Peace Movement. Although these recent climate change protests involved young people who identified across the gender spectrum, I interpreted a shared language. The 1980s disarmament movement was initiated in resistance to the sitting of American Cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common. The American Air Force had used the base throughout the Cold War, which had led to the increase of nuclear arsenal worldwide, and was neutering any sense of futurity. In a comic strip on the cover of an issue of 'Lysistra: A Wimmins Peace Magazine' from 1983, the central character exclaims, "They keep telling us they can't afford to keep hospitals or nurseries open, or to provide good schools, and pay us decent wages ... but I keep reading in the paper about all the money they're spending on nuclear weapons ... Millions of pounds spent on weapons to kill people instead of money being put into worthwhile things."
Like the threat of nuclear war, climate change is inherently political. It is a seismic problem that embodies a multitude of intersecting issues: feminism, institutional racism, and so on. UN figures from March 2018 indicated that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. As Naomi Klein identified in her 2016 Edward Said Lecture, "Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists... there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all … The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.”
The Greenham peace camp has become an iconic symbol for the power of women’s resistance. As the scholar and activist Gwyn Kirk reflected when she donated her archives to MayDay Rooms, “the campaign spoke to me because it was creative and led by women. It pushed me to think about my responsibility for the state of the world: its systems of inequality, violence and greed.” The camp at Greenham was first initiated by the ‘Women for Life on Earth’ peace group in Wales. In 1981, they marched for 10 days and over 120 miles from Cardiff to Greenham Common. Identifying as ‘non-aligned, anti-racist, non-violent, autonomous women’, they began to write to other peace groups for help, made shelters, built camps, and starting cutting the fence and chaining themselves to the railings. In March 1982, they organised the first blockade to try and stop the preparations for missiles. Women were both arrested and physically assaulted by guards, dragged across roads, thrown in ditches. In December, 35,000 women turned up and surrounded the full nine miles of the base, linking arms and hands, singing, dancing, and ululating. Supporters came from across the world. Banners, placards, clothing, photographs, toys, ribbons, and patched quilts were all attached to the wire. In 1983, women groups of women began to break onto the base, climbing the nuclear silos, and writing messages of peace. Many were brought to court. A sit-in was organised inside Parliament, and there were protests outside of Holloway Prison. The missiles began to arrive in late 1983, and thousands demonstrated once again. The resistance continued to ebb and flow throughout the decade, and numbers fluctuated, but there was always a core group of women living on the base. The cruise missiles were finally removed in March 1991.
Paula Allen, the social documentarian who began her career photographing the protests at Greenham, commented to The Guardian in 2017, “Greenham was like pouring water on the seed of my activism and photography – it kept growing and growing … I remember the energy and desire and creativity and courage of women who were doing civil disobedience together; it was extraordinary. I was watching and photographing women who were laying bodies on the ground, who were blocking entrances right around the nine-mile perimeter fence … In a way, Greenham was where I went to university. There was nowhere else I was able to get the education that I needed, that I felt was relevant to living on the planet. I still turn to Greenham a lot for a sense of guidance … how courageous, strong and organised those women were … The actions were beautiful.”