From Military Wife to Peacebuilder – Learning from the Greenham Common Peace Women by Karen Leslie Hernandez

There’s a pinnacle moment, I believe, when everyone’s path is laid before them. The funny thing about that, is that we usually don’t see that moment, until many years later. It is then, at that sudden moment of clarity, in that epiphany, that it all comes together.

My former husband was in the United States Air Force and from 1990-1992, we were stationed at RAF Greenham Common, in the United Kingdom. When we first received our orders, not even ten minutes after, other service members started to inform us: “You’re going to where all those crazy ass bitches are.” “You’re gonna have to deal with those dike peaceniks.” “Wait until you get a load of those nasty, dirty women. They live at the base, camp out there, never shower, stop the convoys – they’re disgusting pigs.”

When I asked why they were living outside the base, there was the military response. “We keep weapons there, it’s all part of the lasting cold war.” Along with several other locations around Europe, RAF Greenham Common was where Ground Launch Cruise Missiles (GLCM’s) were stored. I recall listening to these descriptions with confusion. I was young, just a wee lass of 23 years and not worldly at all. I knew nothing of peace movements, nothing of living overseas, and had never heard of “Crazy women,” who would even think about camping out for their beliefs and ideals, based on their morals and ethics.

I recall the day we arrived at the base. It was a cold, stormy, January evening and as we drove through the gate, I noted the Greenham Common Peace women with their tents and a fire and I thought… They really do camp outside the base.

We were stationed at Greenham for 2.5 years. In those years, I learned this – These women simply didn’t want these weapons in their country, especially in their backyard. The US was seen as invading their peaceful existence and they wanted no part in having destructive weapons that could kill so many, including children, near their homes.

As I observed and learned more, I would listen with delight to my husband when he would get home from work and told me of yet another peace woman who got onto the base and caused a ruckus. These women were no amateurs. They could scale a 15-foot, barbed wire fence in less than 15 seconds. They stopped convoys by lying in front of the gate, while others with wire cutters in hand would shimmy under a truck as it waited at the gate, and cut the fuel lines. They had mad skills and gosh, could they run. I lost count of how many peace women I saw running across the flight line. But, every time I witnessed this act of rebellion, I watched with wonder and awe as the Law Enforcement Officers couldn’t keep up with the moms and grandmas that had more conviction for peace and harmony in their pinky toe, than any of those military members would ever have – about anything at all. The peace women were known to be a nuisance, yet I learned that they were brilliant and a force to be reckoned with.

Fast forward to Fall of 2002, and I was sitting in class at Wellesley College in my Peace and Justice Studies course. We had a guest speaker in class that day and he was talking about women’s peace movements. He named the Greenham Common peace movement as the most successful and longest women’s peace movement in history. I almost fell off my chair. I shyly raised my hand and said, “I was stationed there with my husband from 1990-1992.” He looked at me and said, “Wow. What an incredible experience for you to learn from.”

This was something I had never considered, yet, as I started at Wellesley, I first thought I would major in English, until I saw they had a Peace and Justice Studies major, of which called to me. In that one comment from this expert, he helped me see something so clearly, it was life altering.

I got home that day and got online. I put Greenham Common Peace Women in the search engine and found a webpage. I checked it out and decided to reach out and contact the website operator and after some lengthy emails, I realized I was speaking with one of the women who made the initial walk from Cardiff to Greenham Common in 1981. This incredible woman, Thalia Campbell, along with activists such as Anne Pettit, organized a walk in protest of the GLCM’s at Greenham Common and when they got to the base, they felt they needed to do more. So, they chained themselves to the fence and hence began the Greenham Common Peace Camps that lasted for 20 years.

Fast forward again to Spring/Summer of 2003, Thalia invited me to Cardiff for the 20 year celebration and dedication of the initial walk from Cardiff to Greenham Common. As the “Official Greenham Common (former) Military Representative,” I landed in London on a July day and took a train to Cardiff. Depending on these women whom I had never even met, to house me, feed me and take care of me, I had this incredible four days where I met many of the original peace women, heard their stories and humanized them even more. I witnessed the unveiling of a statue in Cardiff depicting a peace woman, and learned not only about this movement I witnessed on the other side of the fence as a former military wife, but found myself standing on the right side of the fence years later – with women who had been on the right side of history, all along.

I spent a day at the base before I left. Now, it is common land, which was another wish of the peace women – to have the land restored to its original beauty. The flight line is now a massive meadow with cows grazing. At one point, I found an entrance into the old Weapons Storage Area and walked through the now empty silos, that the peace women used to dance and sing on top of. If you go to Greenham today, where the main gate was and their main camp was, you will now find a beautiful peace garden.

Coming full circle, from military wife to peacebuilder, helps me understand that these women are, still, role models and that they were put in my path as early teachers to what and whom, I would eventually become. They cared enough and were “crazy enough” to camp out for their convictions for 20 years, to stand up for a better world for their children and their grandchildren, and to bring peace to their communities and to the world. They were anything but crazy. They were passionate about the well-being of humanity and cared enough to act on it. Their actions are to be commended as successful, Non-Violent Direct Action, where at one point in the early part of their movement, they literally closed down the base for over two days, by surrounding it with thousands of people, who stood and sat, arm in arm, singing, and blocking anyone from coming or going.

This “radical” feminist movement that had women from all walks of life and countries take part – moms, aunts, sisters, political activists, it’s said a Princess or two as well – all thought it important enough to join a movement that would change the history of women’s peace movements forever. Seneca Falls Women’s Peace Movement and Women in Black, also stemmed out of the peace women – this is incredible and should be noted as not only important, but grounded peace work and activism.

I am still in touch with several of the original peace women and I treasure this journey and self-realization that they were, and are, a part of. Protest is a human right and something I encourage and believe in. Unfortunately, many protests today have taken a turn and at times, are destructive, violent, harmful, and counter intuitive. Interestingly enough, those that are causing the harm in these protests are very much like those who ridiculed the peace women – they choose to not grasp the real issues, they choose to militarize and instead of trying to understand, they choose to mislabel, obscure narratives and only wish to cause misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

To this day, I am cognizant of all the rhetoric shared about the Greenham Common Peace Women and how it is and was – especially when I was first told about them – based on misogyny, sexism, and the intolerant skewing of gender and sexual orientation “norms,” as well as just an overall lack of respect for a difference of political ideologies. In my opinion, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been thrilled with the peace women – for their intentions were real and grounded in the hope for a world free of violent and oppressive weaponry, and the desire for a peaceful planet, where children can live safely and we can all simply coexist.

If that’s not worth acknowledgment and deep respect, I’m not sure what is.

Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to have published an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Some of her past gigs include designing and teaching an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, as well as spending four years working with United Religions Initiative, in several different positions. An Over-Achiever, Karen has not one, but two theological master’s degrees – one from Andover Newton Theological School, the other from Boston University School of Theology. She did her BA at Wellesley College, graduating with honors in her major, Peace and Justice Studies, where she wrote her thesis on Al Qaeda and their misuse religion for political gain. Karen currently lives in California, works at three faith based non-profits, teaches and lectures, is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at Claremont School of Theology, and she is also a certified domestic violence advocate.

Categories: Activism, Community, Ethics, Feminist Awakenings, Foremothers, General, Gun Control, land, Military, misogyny, Patriarchy, Peacemaking, Power relations, Resistance, Sexism, Sisterhood, War and Peace, Women for Peace

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13 replies

  1. I love the orbits and cycles and arabesques that tie this wonderfully alive story into an important fabric. That moment in your Peace and Justice Studies class is resonant! Thanks for listening. And, many thanks for sharing your story. Realizing and reeling in serendipity and synchronicity, after the fact. Still a great time. This is wonderful.


  2. This is fascinating Karen. One of the most exciting things in the world is hearing about why people change their minds, and have their minds opened. You start to open the door on this process in your life at Greenham as a young wife, and then as a student in 2002. I hope to find you sharing even more about how you processed those experiences in those two seasons. If we discover and effectively communicate these transformations perhaps they will facilitate radical change in others also. I hope so- and you have certainly encouraged me!


  3. Thank you for telling this story. True heroines of peace.


  4. Thanks for this bit of history. Though I knew about Greenham Common protests, I didn’t know that the women won! How did I miss that?


  5. Oh, the “Peace Women” – how much I enjoyed (and learned from) this story of yours about such remarkable women… I am feeling so uneasy about this upcoming election – all I can think of is the 52 percent of white women who helped tip the scales – leaving us with this monstrous regime we are living through – these women who betray those of us who are the Peacemakers – old and young…

    May the Peace Women persevere…


  6. Thank you for this vivid and moving account of women’s history, human history, the history of non-violent direct action. Thank you for your witness. May peace prevail on earth!


  7. The Greenham Common Peace Women do indeed deserve our deep respect. Many thanks for your eye-witness account of their work and their success. How strong they were–physically strong, mentally strong, morally strong, spiritually strong. We at FAR certainly should respect them. I’m sure we all do.

    Yes, indeed, may peace prevail on earth. Do you think we could ask these women to surround the White House until January? They may need to drag the Orange T. Rex and his enablers out for us. I’m sure they could clean up the White House.

    (I was a military wife, too. He was a drunken sailor. I divorced him.)

    Bright blessings to the Greenham Common Peace Women and to you for telling their inspiring story. It’s a story we need to hear, especially today.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a magnificent story! I had no idea that the land is now restored to natural beauty and that the peace women helped launch other women’s peace movements. It shows so clearly how persistence and commitment to ideals really can make a difference, that big changes can result when enough people get together and insist on them. This is just what we all need to hear these days!


  9. Dear Karen, I loooooved this piece. You made me think about the unexpected and amazing changes we go through in our lives. One day we are from this side of the fence, and tomorrow, who knows?? But I also see in your story how we walk the paths we are meant to walk, and peacebuilding is always a beautiful place waiting for us, a beautiful garden.



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