Monday, October 16, 2006

aRTiCLe "The Speaker from Greenham Common: A Political Epiphany"

by Lucinda Sangree

From the Highway, 1983 by Nancy Clover

In December of 1982 I attended several meetings of a new group formed to assist setting up a Peace Camp in the vicinity of Seneca Army Depot at Romulus, NY. One evening our group learned that a woman from Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp located in England would be coming to Rochester to speak. Evidence was mounting that the Seneca Depot was an important storage and trans-shipment site for nuclear weapons. We were a small group, about eight people, but we were part of a larger alliance of women peace activists who stated that they intended to set up a protest encampment outside the Depot for the entire summer. Peace activists around the world were alarmed by the stated intent of the United States to place Cruise and Pershing II missiles in U.S. military bases near the Soviet Union. This would be a major escalation of the arms race because these missiles, armed with nuclear explosive devices, were designed to fly under existing radar warning systems. This intent of the United States was leading to increased anxiety in the Soviet Union and was causing greater worldwide fear of nuclear war, a war that might be started by intent or by accident. Pershing II missiles and/or Cruise missiles were rumored to be accumulating at the Seneca Depot and scheduled to leave for Europe in November 1983. One of the scheduled destinations was Greenham Air Force Base in England. I was reluctant to commit whole-heartedly to the planned anti-deployment protests. I could see that these women were about to give all their available resources to this effort. They were joining women from other town and cities in New York state as well as Massachusetts and other areas. I clung to my notions of conventional channels such as writing letters to my congresspersons and helping organize local peace vigils from time to time. I held onto my desire for a normal summer vacation with my family at the seashore. Also, I feared the objections in my family and in my Quaker Meeting if I became heavily involved in a project that was “exclusive” in any way. The declaration of “women only” would set off a barrage of criticism, I felt, if I gave a great deal of time and enthusiasm to such an undertaking. I was curious about the Greenham women’s message, however, and I decided to help publicize the talk and attend myself.

The meeting with the Greenham woman as speaker was held in a small Presbyterian Church that was famous locally as the locus of a church heresy trial in the 1800’s. A popular minister was found to be a heretic because he refused to support the doctrine of Trinity. This is considered an important event in church history in the United States. I was almost as eager to view the interior of this small but famous church as I was to hear the peace activist from England.

The speaker described the heavy presence of United States military bases in England, the peace marches at Molesworth and Greenham, and the decision to establish women only protests in camps outside each gate of the Greenham Common Air Force Base. She told us about the harassment of persons involved in the anti-nuclear weapons movement in England and Europe; houses of activists were entered and searched, their phones were tapped, and they were followed. I wanted to believe the best of my government and of the British government; I tried to dismiss the Greenham woman’s account as exaggerated, mistaken, even “paranoid.”

After the talk, several of us including the woman from England, went to a nearby bar. We stayed about an hour, talking over sodas and beers, and we danced to the loud music on the small dance floor under flashing strobe lights. It grew late. We started to leave and the woman who was hosting the overseas visitor reached for her coat which she had hung on a wall peg near our table. As she drew on her coat she put her hand in the pocket, hesitated, drew out her hand palm up and said, “My keys. My car keys. They aren’t here.”

We searched under and around the table but we did not find the keys. We walked to the location of the car, hoping that the driver had locked the keys inside. The car was still where it had been parked but the two doors nearest the curb were unlocked and the missing keys were on the floor near the driver’s seat. The traveling case of the Greenham woman was open on the back seat and the contents scattered. Her folder of papers was missing, nothing else. We searched the immediate area around the car but we found no trace of them. The folder contained the woman’s diary, her address book with addresses of her contact persons in the United States and contacts in the peace movement in England and her itinerary for her trip in the United States.

I was stunned. I was sorry for the woman’s discomfort but I was at the same time strangely elated. “These women are on to something that works,” I thought. “If that weren’t the case no one would be bothering to spy on them. What they are doing has their government and ours concerned that they may influence the public.” I believe (then and to this day) that someone from our government was following this woman a had stolen the car keys while we were away from our table dancing or at the bar and had stolen her address book and diary. No one would be treated this way, I felt, unless perceived as a threat – as possibly having an effect.

My second reaction was one of rage. Some part of or government was resorting to undercover, spy techniques to suppress protest of the government policies. On this evening I decided to help establish the women’s peace encampment outside of the Seneca Army Depot.

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