Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp

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Another high point of the People Power exhibition was their array of memorabilia from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, which was formed in 1981 and officially disbanded in 2000. It was founded at RAF Greenham Common to protest nuclear weapons on site there, but remained for the next 19 years as both a peace camp and as a women’s-only space (which they decided it would be in 1982). Although it was not the first peace camp to be established, it was certainly the most famous of its kind. There were many similar peace camps formed in the 1980s following the popularity of Greenham Common, most of which were also set up outside military bases to protest war.

The Camp began in September 1981 when a Welsh group called ‘Women for Life on Earth’ marched from Cardiff to the RAF base in Berkshire. 36 women then chained themselves to the fence of the base in protest against nuclear weapons, one of whom was Thalia Campbell, the wearer of the jumpsuit below.

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What’s wonderful to note about this jumpsuit and the ribbons attached to it, is that the outfit was intentionally made to link ‘Women for Life on Earth’ with the Suffragette movement. The white/purple/green mix was first used by the Women’s Social and Political union in 1908, the claim being that purple symbolises dignity, white = purity, and green = hope. The WSPU was the largest group involved in the militant movement for women’s suffrage, making them the Suffragettes rather than the Suffragists (the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies). It’s curious that the Greenham women chose to use colours associated with a militant and at times violent movement, when they were a peace group who engaged in non-violent protest (much like the Committee of 100).

Here you see a connection made between first wave feminism and second wave feminism. Rather than taking their movement culture from the dominant culture, the Greenham women chose to align themselves with a famous movement from over 60 years beforehand. The colours would have been recognisable to people outside the movement, and it is possible that they may even have made people wary of the Greenham women, as the Suffragettes were known to create public disturbances and inflict material damage. Going by the ideas in Raymond Williams’s ‘Marsixm and Literature’, the Greenham women accessed the ‘cultural reservoir’ by incorporating these colours for their own movement culture.

The use of the Suffragette colours can also be seen in the poster and on the mug below. The poster, which dates back to July 1983, promotes a blockade of the Greenham Common air base. Like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament posters in my previous post, this one uses an image from the aftermath of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima in 1945. Like CND, the Greenham women are using a famous and evocative example of the horror that nuclear weaponry can inflict.

 

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The mug was designed by Lou Kenton, who created commemorative pottery for both the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and the CND. The women holding hands depicted on the mug reference the peace chain and ‘Embrace the Base’ events organised by the Greenham women.

Although it can be difficult to assess the entirety of the camp’s ‘movement culture’ as it was in operation for 19 years, you get a good impression of the culture during the anti-nuclear period of the early 1980s. Alongside the use of Suffragette colours, you see the use of the ‘peace’ symbol, originally designed for CND. At times this sign was adapted to include the women’s symbol as well, since Greenham continued to be a women’s camp. Although their events and demonstrations in the 1980s were primarily focused on peace and nuclear disarmament, they remained a womens-only camp until 2000. Peace protests and pacifism had been a major focus for women’s rights groups and movements in the early 20th century as well, to the point where pacifism was seen as a ‘women’s cause’. Although this was no longer the case in the 1980s, the use of Suffragette colours and the female symbol shows that the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was happy to continue in their predecessor’s legacy.

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(Photograph from the Imperial War Museum, taken by Ed Barber in February 1982)

References:

People Power: Fighting for Peace at the Imperial War Museum

On the 23rd of March I decided to head to the Imperial War Museum and see their new exhibition, ‘People Power: Fighting for Peace‘. I had never been to this museum, but I knew enough about it to be very surprised that such an exhibit had been created in the first place. The staff member who sold me my ticket echoed my confusion when I asked him if (as it was the first day of opening) he had seen the exhibit yet. He replied that he had, but that he did not understand why it was there.

The exhibition, I was pleased to see, was full of objects and documents related to the exact movements and groups we had encountered at university – pacifism and pacificism during the first and second world wars, the anti-Vietnam war movement, anti-nuclear movements (particularly the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Committee of 100), and groups such as the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. I even saw footage from Threads, Protect and Survive, and other public information released in preparation for nuclear war.

Although the letters and pamphlets from the first half of the 20th century were very interesting, the highlight of the exhibition was the nuclear disarmament section.

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The above image showcases some of my favourite posters in the exhibit. These were produced by the CND in the 1950s/1960s, during the first wave of anti-nuclear campaigns in Britain. They all reference the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, intending to provoke horror at those attacks so that people would understand the necessity to prevent such things ever happening again. They use bold images and text over black backgrounds to catch the eye and hammer their message in, relying on simplicity and distinctiveness rather than overcomplicating their posters. To a degree these posters echo the pop art style which was popular in this period, which is an example of the movement taking aspects of the dominant culture to make their message more palatable and recognisable to their audience.

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The CND famously held annual marches between London and the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston (the first march being from London to Aldermaston, and all the following marches being the other way around). These marches were great examples of Charles Tilly’s W.U.N.C. – their worthiness demonstrated by the solemnity of the marchers and the presence of many older members, their unity presented by their large banners and the repetition of the ‘peace symbol’ (as it is now known) which had been designed specifically for their movement, while the power of their numbers was enhanced by the commitment of the activists, because even though there weren’t always as many people marching as were seen in other movement events, the fact that a reasonably large number of people were marching in inclement weather for 52 miles was incredibly impressive.

It would appear that the CND was made up of ad hoc and communitarian activists, rather than professional. This is because the movement waned between the 1960s and the 1980s when a large number of its supporters became focused on the Vietnam War instead of nuclear disarmament. Therefore, some of their former members may have just disappeared when the Vietnam War took precedence as their focus was specifically anti-nuclear war (the ad hoc activists), whilst the others (communitarian) changed movements in this period, before returning to the CND in the 1980s.

 

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But back to the exhibition. The above images show posters and fliers from the Committee of 100, the group that broke away from CND as they preferred active non-violent protest and civil disobedience to achieve their ends. The repertoire of the Committee of 100 was made up entirely of non-violent protests, which were episodic. They held a number of sit-downs and marches to cause disruptive damage rather than violent damage, by obstructing important areas and causing traffic (an example being their demonstration on September 17th 1961, when they blocked approaches to Trafalgar Square by sitting in the road). In breaking away from the majority of the CND and forming the Committee, these activists specifically sought to take their threshold of participation in their movement from direct action to more illegal non-violent activities, making sure never to proceed to violence on principle. By doing so they were changing the nature of the spaces which they occupied, as their protests were taking place in social spaces intended as sites of collective belonging (such as Trafalgar Square) or informal encounter (the streets) which were then unable to be used in their traditional ways. Occupying these spaces was symbolic (as Trafalgar was the emblem of British nationalism), performative, and disruptive.

One particularly recognisable face in images from the Committee of 100 protests is that of philosopher/mathematician/writer Bertrand Russell. Bertrand Russell had been prominent in pacifist and anti-war movements since the First World War, during which time he was charged under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in 1916, dismissed from Trinity College, Cambridge the same year, attended the famous Leeds Convention in 1917 (a gathering of ‘anti-war socialists’) and was even imprisoned in 1918. He is perhaps an example of something in between a professional and a communitarian activist, as he was consistently involved in anti-war movements for upwards of 50 years (and would likely have been active during the second wave of the CND had he not died in 1970) but did not remain with the same specific groups throughout that time.

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This final image shows my favourite poster from the exhibition, ‘Protect and Survive’ (1980) by Peter Kennard. This piece took the government pamphlet sent to the public in the event of nuclear attack and exposed it as the fallacy it was. This pamphlet was essentially useless, as none of the suggested actions would actually be of much protection at all, and people who tried them would be left as dead as the skeleton in the artwork. Kennard took a popular image from the dominant culture and exploited it for the sake of the movement.

References:

  • Hudson, Kate, CND – now more than ever: the story of a peace movement (London: Vision Paperbacks, 2005)

  • Lefebvre, Henri, Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974)
  • Reiss, Matthias, ed., The street as stage: protest marches and public rallies since the nineteenth century (Oxford, 2007)

  • Taylor, Richard & Pritchard, Colin, The protest makers: the British nuclear disarmament movement of 1958-1965 twenty years on (Oxford, 1980)
  • Tilly, Charles, ‘Social movements as historically specific clusters of political performances’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology (1993), 1–30
  • Tonkiss, Fran, ‘The Politics of Space: Social Movements and Public Space’ in Space, the City and Social Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005)

     

William Morris and the Socialist League

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(William Morris from Prose and Poetry, published 1913 by Oxford)

Artist, poet, textile designer and novelist, William Morris was a major figure in mid to late 19th century England. Early in Morris’s career he had been part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who defined themselves in opposition to existing ‘mechanistic’ approaches to art and instead favoured naturalistic work. In the late 1870s, he began to become a vocal political activist, and was heavily involved in the Social Democratic Federation in the early 1880s, before splitting off with several other members and founding the Socialist League in 1884. They believed in Revolutionary International Socialism, advocating a world revolution rather than confining it to single countries. Morris was known the travel around the country and spread the word of the Socialist League in workingmen’s clubs and parks, giving public lectures and speeches, particularly in London’s East End. He was also the editor of their weekly paper Commonweal. He believed that the conditions and experiences of workers in the East End meant that they had lost any faith or interest in the labour movement, and it was therefore the duty of socialists such as the league to enter these communities and encourage workers to participate.

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(Cover of the Manifesto of the Socialist League, 1885)

The inclusion of artists such as William Morris meant that the Socialist League and the labour movement overall gained significant artistic and creative talent. The design of the Manifesto of the Socialist League is a perfect example of how Morris’s artistic talent was used in the socialist cause. The beautiful emblem on the title page uses natural and classical imagery to present the league’s name, familiar themes to Victorian readers (the leaves are particularly Morris-esque). Aesthetically it is clear and beautiful, but it also incorporates the famous words ‘educate, agitate, organize’, first used by George Bernard Shaw in 1884 to describe the mission of the Fabian Society.

A clear manifesto with artistic merit was important to the repertoire of the Socialist League. It exhibited worthiness as explained by Charles Tilly, as it was well-presented, clearly thought out and explained, and had the name of an authority figure like Morris attached to it (although his ‘authority’ stemmed from his position as a famous and respected artist and poet). Although it is difficult to express unity in a written manifesto, the use of the league’s beautiful emblem would have made it recognisable. It also contributed to the visual culture of the movement, using existing ideas from the ‘residual’ cultural reservoir (the classical and natural imagery) to present the league’s political beliefs and slogan.

Morris’s involvement in the League was not all design and rhetoric. He was arrested once during a demonstration, and was arrested and fined on a second occasion for ‘public obstruction’ while he spoke about socialism on the street in July 1886. The Black Monday riots had only occurred 5 months before this, and there had been a spate of violence between activists and police for some time. Morris felt particularly passionate about this issue, condemning the ‘bullying and hectoring’ that Socialists experienced at the hands of the police. Whether this was entirely justified or partially hyperbolic is debatable, but there is certainly evidence that the police in this period were not particularly accountable for their actions, and could use more coercive strategies (to intimidate activists at best, and physically detain and/or harm them at worst).

Most famously, Alfred Linnell was trampled to death by a police horse during a demonstration on the 13th of November, 1887. Although it’s highly likely that this was simply an accident and he wasn’t even involved in the demonstration itself, his death was used by socialist groups at the time (particularly by Morris himself) to engender sympathy for and interest in their cause. The Repression-Protest Paradox, whereby an increase in police force can result in either an increase in activist response or the decline of the movement, can be applied here. The best explanation in this case is the Rational Individualist theory by Mason & Crane, because while the police had used increased force during demonstrations, the specific (if unintentional) targeting of the movement membership by killing Linnell meant that the involvement in the cause increased in response. There was a large and highly-publicised funeral for Linnell, with a huge demonstration of tens of thousands. As well as writing a poem on Linnell (whose proceeds went to his non-existent orphans), Morris famously spoke at his funeral, referring to him as ‘our brother and our friend’. The few police who attended were heckled with cries of ‘that’s your work’ by activists present. Although it does not appear that anyone knew Linnell before his death, the symbolism of that death was used by the Socialist League and a host of activists from across the country in their specific movements and general condemnation of the police force.

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(The poem dedicated to Alfred Linnell, written by William Morris)

 

References:

  • Cover of ‘the Manifesto of the Socialist League ‘(1885), digital image from the Tim Davenport collection
  • ‘William Morris’, Southgate Green Association (2012-2017), <http://southgategreen.org.uk/christ-church/william-morris/&gt;
  • ‘Walter Crane’, Working Class Movement Library <http://www.wcml.org.uk/our-collections/creativity-and-culture/art/walter-crane/&gt;
  • Foot, Paul, ‘Blair: Our Brother Our Friend’, in Socialist Worker (1979)
  • Krane, David, and Mason, Dale, ‘Political economy of Death Squads’, in International Studies quarterly (1989)
  • McAdam, Doug, ‘Culture in Social Movements’ in Buechler and Cylke, Social Movements: Perspectives and Issues (1997)
  • Porta, Donatella della, and Reiter, Herbert, Policing Protest (1998)
  • Taylor, Rosemary, ‘”The City of Dreadful Delight”: William Morris in the East End of London’, Journal of William Morris Studies, 18 (2009), 9-28
  • Tilly, Charles, ‘Social movements as historically specific clusters of political performances’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology (1993), 1–30
  • Vallance, Aymer, William Morris: His Art, His Writings and His Public Life (London: George Bell and Sons, 1897)

The Culture of Protest & Invasion Day

Last Thursday was a very important day for many Australians. January 26th is Australia Day, a national holiday much like America’s 4th of July or Bastille Day in France. It’s a holiday that neither I nor my family have ever celebrated, with good reason – the date marks the arrival of the first fleet at Port Jackson in 1788, and the day is considered by many to be a celebration of the brutal colonisation of Australia and the deaths of Aboriginal people.

Those who oppose the holiday have named it ‘Invasion Day’, and every Jan 26th there are protests by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians across the country. In my home city (Melbourne) the protest had up to 50,000 people, possibly even more than the Australia Day parade happening at the same time. That is an extraordinary number, especially for a protest that many have deemed unnecessary, unpatriotic, or ‘political correctness gone mad’ as Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce put it.

But what is curious about these protests is the way they have always been so closely linked to culture, to a greater degree than most other social movements. Not only does the movement have its own culture, but it also uses and expresses the culture of Aboriginal Australians. As one Indigenous protester put it in the video linked below: ‘It’s connecting people with our culture, which is the most important thing’. In a country where Aboriginal Australians continue to experience oppression, violence, erasure and abuse, the Invasion Day protests are a crucial way to connect non-Indigenous people with Indigenous culture and recognise the importance of these issues.

Using the theories put forward by Doug McAdam in ‘Culture in Social Movements’ (1997), the culture of the movement emerges from existing cultural formations in two key ways. First of all, it uses existing ‘dominant’ cultural resources, particularly the Australia Day celebrations. As the protests are held in direct counterpoint to the parades and celebrations on the same day, they appropriate and parody existing aspects of them. The name is the most important – Australia Day is replaced with Invasion Day, which is then ‘celebrated’ ironically to make people uncomfortably aware of what January 26th really commemorates. They also take patriotic images and destroy or change them – burning Australian flags, replacing the union jack with the Aboriginal flag, and so on. National songs are played during protests with or without have their lyrics changed, particularly Waltzing Matilda, the national anthem, and I Still Call Australia Home.

The other way is the use of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultures (depending on the specific groups in the area), both to celebrate their continued existence and history, and to commemorate the countless lives lost since 1788. This is a positive use of culture, as it brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and demonstrates that Aboriginal Australians are still here, they still matter, and they aren’t going anywhere. You can see this explained in the video above, including snippets of a traditional Wagulora ceremony. This in particular is able to unify and harmonise the movement, and it reinforces the ideas and issues at hand both emotionally and intellectually.

Although this social movement has been going for decades, the numbers at the Melbourne protest indicate that it continues to gain strength. While the Liberal government (the Liberal party being the Conservatives) is dismissive of the requests of activists and Aboriginal elders, there remains hope that in time they will be heard and the date may finally be changed. For more information on why Australia Day is offensive and deeply disrespectful, read this article here.

I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of the land on which I grew.

References:

  • Davidson, Helen, ‘‘What are you actually celebrating?’ Indigenous elder says Australia day debate must continue’, The Guardian, 9 February 2017
  • McAdam, Doug, ‘Culture in Social Movements’ in Buechler and Cylke, Social Movements: Perspectives and Issues (1997)
  • Reporter, Staff, ‘Australia day 2017: Deputy prime minister calls activists ‘miserable’ as protests mar celebrations’, The Independent – Australasia, 1 January 2015
  • Wong, James and Jessica Carrascalao Heard, Invasion day Melbourne rally draws tens of thousands of protesters (The Age, 2017), <http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/invasion-day-melbourne-rally-draws-tens-of-thousands-of-protesters-20170126-gtz3ce.html&gt;

Beginnings

I’m going to start off my very first post on this blog by applauding myself for not using Pink Floyd lyrics in the blog title. I was very close, mind you, but as much as I love Wish You Were Here I resisted… and went for a line from Peter Gabriel’s Biko instead. Perhaps not that much resistance then.

Lucky word usage there though, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about: resistance. During our first lecture and seminar for London’s Burning (which I deeply enjoyed), I found myself thinking about my own family history and how it ties in with social movement theory. Both of my parents were activists – perhaps they still identify so, although the active activism of their youth has turned into careers heavily influenced by their politics. Not quite the ‘communitarian activists’ that Charles Tilly put forward in 1993/4, but not quite professional either – perhaps this case requires more complex and modern definitions, à la new social movement theory?

I want to focus on my mother specifically, though. She’s Filipino, and during the 70s and 80s she was heavily involved in student politics during the Martial Law era and later a member of the Communist Party and part of the National Democratic Movement. I grew up on stories of her activism in this period, some of which were (as you can guess) pretty terrifying – not only did she have to go underground to avoid arrest and execution, but many of her comrades were arrested and executed in that time. But this period is particularly famous for the People Power Revolution, which began in 1983 but was at its peak from February 22nd-25th 1986 when there was a series of popular demonstrations on Epifanio De los Santos Avenue in Manila. This revolution is particularly famous for being a successfully non-violent revolution.

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Above is an image of people standing in EDSA cheering after hearing that Marcos had fled the country (taken on February 24th 1986).

So, reading Charles Tilly (specifically ‘Social Movements as historically specific clusters of political performances’, 1993/4) got me thinking about my mum and the EDSA Revolution. I don’t know the complete history of the revolution or the period around it, so any attempt to categorise it properly would be inaccurate. But the question is – can Tilly be applied to it? If we disregarded the fact that Tilly’s theories are considered a bit simplistic now, there are still other issues with them.

Most pressing of all – can Tilly be applied to social movements outside the West? We claim that his theories are less applicable to movements after WWII because of the shift in social focus (i.e. power vs. masses/workers to identity politics), but is it the same in countries where WWII had a smaller/different impact? Where do dictatorships in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East fit into that? Of course I say this as someone who has only just started the course and probably has a rudimentary understanding of these theories, but it seems to me that modern revolutions against dictatorships outside the West can still be broken up into Tilly’s populations. In the case of the EDSA Revolution, you have:

  • Power holders – Ferdinand Marcos and his administration
  • Activists/claimants – my mother and her contemporaries, e.g. the activists of the National Democratic Movement
  • Subjects/beneficiaries – the rest of the population of the Philippines, who had suffered under Marcos during the Martial Law years and afterwards

However, this is a People Power Revolution. Millions of people gathered during the demonstrations against Marcos and his regime, which is what makes this period so unique. So is this a case of activists and subjects becoming one and the same, but with the subjects only being ad hoc activists, mobilised at one point in time? Then again, there was the Second EDSA Revolution in 2001. So were many of these ad hoc activists actually professional? What about the National Democratic Movement members like my mother, professionals for two decades who then mellowed over time, but still feel strongly about social issues and have the potential to be mobilised should the need arise?

Perhaps Tilly is a little too simple, even in this case. Sorry, Charles.

References: