A rare poster advertising Embrace the Base, one of the key mass actions at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. We have been able to locate only two copies in institutional collections, at the LSE Women’s Library and the Glasgow Women’s Library.
The Greenham Common protest was established in September of 1981 by the Welsh group Women for Life on Earth, who were opposed to the deployment of nuclear tipped cruise missiles at the site. What was initially planned as a single march became a permanent protest camp, one of the most significant and longest lasting women’s protests of the 20th century. In February 1982, for political reasons, the camp was made women only, and the following month they engaged in their first blockade of the base. Embrace the Base was their next major action. Taking place on December 12th & 13th, 1982, it saw 30,000 women from across from across the UK—drawn by chain letter, word of mouth, and posters such as this one—join hands to surround the nine mile perimeter fence. This copy of the poster seems to have been used in Birmingham, and includes instructions for obtaining coach tickets at the “Peace Centre (opp New Street Station)”, as well as local activist contact details, in marker pen.
As well as being an early and rare example of Greenham Common ephemera, this poster is particularly interesting in that is features a spider web, “a frequently reoccurring symbol in Greenham women’s cultural imaginary” because of its mythological and symbolic associations. “The metaphor of ‘building a web’ and being connected to each other in a ‘web-like structure’ populated Greenham women’s speech and writing. Alison Young describes Greenham women’s reclamation of the spider as revolving primarily around the notion of the spider’s web. She writes that the web ‘shows connections between women or between ideas; it can be begun at any point or at any time; each single strand is weak and fragile, yet when interwoven it is strong, beautiful and efficient’ (1990, 38). In line with Young’s reading, Roseneil writes that, ‘the web was a symbol of women's collective power, seemingly fragile, but actually very strong’” (1999, 179, ft39)” (Feigenbaum, Tactics and Technology: Cultural Resistance at the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp, PhD thesis, McGill University, April 2008).
The Greenham Common camp had no hierarchy, and its nature was defined by the thousands of individual women who visited when they could or lived permanently onsite for years. The activists engaged in non-violent resistance by disrupting movement in and out of the gates, cutting down portions of the fence, and trespassing on military property, and they endured frequent police raids, arrests, and evictions. A large number of the protesters were middle aged and older; they considered themselves ordinary mothers and working women, and made a point of the fact were opposed to nuclear weapons for deeply personal reasons. Their gender was crucial to their message: “a woman’s place was not in the home, but at a protest. Women could use their identity as carers and mothers to say, this is about the future safety of our children. We weaponised traditional notions of femininity” (Suzanne Moore, “How the Greenham Common Protest Changed Lives, The Guardian, March 20th, 2017).
“Greenham was powerful. It taught my generation about collective action, about protest as spectacle, a way of life, incredibly hard but sometimes joyous. Still the image of resistance for me is not the famous photograph of a striking miner confronting a policeman at Orgreave, it is the picture of Greenham women dancing in 1982: witchy, unarmed women dancing on a missile silo. This magical, powerful image shows how the peace camp both played on traditional images of the feminine and then subverted them. Greenham created an alternative world of unstoppable women. It changed lives.” (Moore, 2017).
...to Stop the Siting of Cruise Missiles Anywhere in Europe. December 12th & 13th. Embrace the Base on Sunday. Close the Base on Monday.
Mechanically printed poster (420mm x 580mm). White text and illustration of a missile caught in a spider’s web superimposed over a grey and red photograph of the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. Marker pen notes at the bottom of the poster give contact details and instructions for travelling to the camp by bus from Birmingham. Vertical and horizontal creases from folding, a little light rubbing. Very good condition.
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