Sunday, January 06, 2008

George Monbiot at Greenham Common

I came across this article recently by the usually articulate and thoughtful George Monbiot.

"This story doesn’t reflect very well on me, or on anyone. But it is a small chapter in the history of the Greenham Common Peace camp, founded 25 years ago this week, which has not yet been related.

In the summer of 1983, I had a holiday job a few miles to the west of Newbury. On most days I would drive past the camp. The women there fascinated me. I was 20 years old, awkward and inexperienced, and I had never seen anyone like them. Some of them appeared to have abandoned all conventions. They dressed in ponchos and rags, they wore no makeup, they had dirt on their faces and knots in their hair. After a few days, I stopped on the way home from work.

No one, at first, was uncivil to me. Men could visit the camp, but they could not stay. I tried to make myself useful, collecting firewood, making tea, winding ribbons through the fence. I made friends with two of the activists - a grave, impressive matriarch with iron-grey hair, and a simple woman, who pushed toy cars around in the dust. Most of the others spoke to me only when they had to. I started visiting two or three times a week.

After a couple of weeks, I came across someone different - a man. He called himself, as quite a few hippies did at that time, Cat. He was slight, nervous, perhaps 25 or so. He wore torn drainpipe jeans and a rainbow jumper. His hair was cropped short at the front but hung down his neck in peroxide rats’ tails. He sat by himself some yards away from the women, staring at the fire, occasionally flipping a coin and consulting his I-Ching.

Unlike me, he wasn’t just a day visitor. He was the camp’s only male resident. The second time I met him, he invited me to stay in his bender
[improvised shelter]. Without pausing to consider the consequences, or even possessing any idea what a bender was, I accepted.

He led me for what seemed to be miles through scrub and woodland, all the way urging me not to trample the leaves or break any twigs: only he knew the paths, and he didn’t want anyone to be able to follow him. When we stopped, however, I realised that we were just 200 yards away from the camp. “Here we are”, he said. I looked around. All I could see was bracken, birch and hawthorn. He parted the bracken to reveal a clear polythene sheet, stretched over a rowan sapling which had been bent down and tied to the ground. Even after he had shown it to me, when I stepped back a pace I couldn’t see it.

“Why are you taking all these precautions?”

“Because they set light to my last two benders. The last time was when I was sleeping in it.”

“The police?”

“No. The women.”

Cat had slept there, on a pillow made of moss, with nothing but his I-Ching, a candle and an enamel mug, for a fortnight, since he had lost his other possessions in the last fire. Recently, he told me, someone had held a knife to his chest and promised she would kill him if he stayed.

“I know why they don’t want me here, and I agree with them. But I have to stay. This is where my spirit lives.”

In the morning, unaware of the trouble I was in, I sat by the camp fire, waiting for the kettle to boil. I sensed that someone was standing over me, and looked up. I was surrounded by a ring of women. They held their palms out towards me and their eyes were closed. Slowly and quietly they started chanting. “Go away. Go away. Go away.” It was terrifying and extremely effective. I left immediately. I returned only once, a few weeks later, to ask after Cat. My two friends told me he had gone away, or, as the simple woman put it, “disappeared”. I don’t think anything sinister was meant by this: he had probably moved to Faslane.

The women were right to throw me out, and right to get rid of Cat, if not by the methods some of them had chosen. Greenham worked - better and for longer than any other camp of its kind - because it was entirely run and populated by women. Its resilience and its success in mobilising public feeling inspired a direct action movement which spread to dozens of neglected causes: the spirit of Greenham Common hovered over the climate camp outside Drax power station last week. And, despite my dramatic ejection, the women’s camp inspired me too: after that summer, everything looked different."

I was living at Faslane Peace Camp in the summer of 1983, and I certainly don't remember anyone called Cat turning up. Greenham Common Peace Camp was a disgraceful episode, a rat's nest of political thugs and psychiatric patients, and Monbiot is deeply misguided in his continuing support for it. The women were right to throw me out, and right to get rid of Cat. How does he justify this self-loathing apology for naked sexual fascism? Greenham worked - better and for longer than any other camp of its kind - because it was entirely run and populated by women. Every part of this statement is highly questionable. Faslane was certainly comparable in longevity and was mixed. How does one measure the success of a peace camp anyway? Greenham certainly attracted more publicity, but that was partly due to its location near London. Faslane and the other Scottish camps were rather too cold and far away from the cosy pubs of Fleet Street. Monbiot claims that "it worked because it was entirely run by women". What can that possibly mean? Is he saying that women are essentially better than men at organisation? Essentially more moral? So much for sexual equality. So much for social constructionism. Especially in view of the fact that he knows himself that these women were not above violence, surely that most quintessentially male of all institutions; that organisation was not one if the Peace Camp movement's strong points. On the contrary. Organisation was a dirty word in the movement, deemed to be an instrument of male thinking. I am surprised at one of Monbiot's intellect coming out with statements like this. At least he is honest enough to admit that the story doesn't reflect very well on him, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons.


paddybrown said...

Yes, I remember that one. He published a follow-up a while later, in which he complained that the "mysoginist" comments he received in response were proof that men felt (that old chestnut) "threatened" by the Greenham Common women. I don't know about you, but I would have thought feeling threatened is quite appropriate and reasonable when someone threatens you, but ymmv.

WizardKing said...

George Monbiot; groveling to women in a blatant point-scoring exercise. I bet he wont get the Neil Lyndon treatment.
Monbiot called for a new-world-order so I wouldn't believe anything the groveling little b*stard says.

BrusselsLout said...

Monbiot is a disgrace. I cringed at reading only odd snippets of his report. I'll brace myself over the next few days so I can read the rest.

Anonymous said...

Monbiot claims that the misogyny in some of the comments is proof that the behaviour of the Greenham Common women is necessary. This has become something of a standard feminist tactic. Whenever feminists succeed in provoking any sort of male backlash they cite this as further evidence of how vicious men are and how women need to be roused to more activism in order to combat this.

It is a common feature of all pathological, dysfunctional people is that they can only see the wickedness of others, while being completely oblivious to how they have contributed to a problem.

It is a funny argument to say that because some men express hostility to women, this is sufficient justification for women adopting gender apartheid. This is no different to saying that men should reject all women because many women express hostility to men. Should I stop speaking to my mother, sister, girlfriend etc. because of something Germaine Greer said?

Anonymous said...

Feminism is just really about degradation of women. Note this quote: "They dressed in ponchos and rags, they wore no makeup, they had dirt on their faces and knots in their hair." No woman with self-respect would allow herself to deteriorate in such a manner. Feminists are just a bunch of ugly women unable to find a man so they mostly turn out lesbians. They most of all hate traditional women who have home and family, and successful men who provide for them. Feminism is a movement based on jealousy.

ex-boyfriend said...

This Greenham Common thing inspires me...
to laugh.

Both Monbiot and "Cat" were making some big mistakes in their support of that loony farm.
I guess it just goes to show how deeply committed some manginas are.

I've always heard that Monbiot was a twat. Now I know why.

Cruise Missle said...

My father was stationed at Greenham Common and I remember, seeing all those women screaming and chanting at our car as we waited to get on base, thinking to myself "why are all these women here and a only a few men" I knew then how stupid women could be and even stupider a man could be to follow a woman's lead. I resolved then to NEVER but myself in their position.