Briffaway – Greenham

August 29, 2017, By

In late summer 1981 a small group of walkers set off from Cardiff to march across the west of England. They had been recruited by one Annie Pettit a small wiry woman who under the placard of ‘women for life on earth’ had placed ads in local shops, the Guardian and Cosmopolitan calling for action. The band who only met for the first time that morning comprised 36 women 4 men and 3 children. As they passed through the towns and villages of England (one of the women allegedly cartwheeling as she went) they were met by a mixture of amusement and indifference. One evening with their feet in shreds, just over half way through their journey and a few days from Greenham the walkers gathered round a bench in the Wiltshire market town of Melksham and shared the concern that despite their efforts the march would be ineffective. That night they hatched a plan that three of the women would chain themselves to the fence to show their protest on behalf of all of them. Up and on their way again they purchased the required ironmongery in Marlborough. Then at 7.30am on the 5th of September one woman approached the on duty policeman at the gate at the Greenham air base and read out a statement on behalf of the group which had been written by Annie in the pub the previous evening while the gang of three chained themselves to the fence. So began a protest that was to continue for the next 19 years, outstripping the date on which the last cruise missiles left the base by 9 years. It is believed to have been the longest grass roots protest in the world ever and is credited with playing a part in ending the Cold War. There are so many morals in this tale that it is hard to know where to start. Many are obvious. The power of an idea if acted on. The importance of carrying on when you feel faintly ridiculous and are flirting with thoughts of giving up. The strength that can be drawn from a team. But for me as a lawyer the most interesting perhaps is the challenge of assumptions. When faced with an opponent that you need to make a deal with as you are on a daily basis in my line of work it is often easy to jump to conclusions as to what they are like and what they will find acceptable or not acceptable. The story of Annie Pettit however teaches that it is unwise not to check facts in order to get the best deal for a client and a wise lawyer always should. In the late summer of 1981 I had only just completed my first year at University. I had so much more to learn. If you had asked me then to describe Annie Pettit I would have jumped to the conclusion that she was an arch feminist who lived in a non-weather proof rural dwelling half way up a Welsh hillside and knitted her own yoghurt. Research however shows that Annie Pettit is not the loud banner waving type associated with the movement. She is not a vegetarian or even a pacifist. She is opposed to nuclear war (who isn’t) but not war per se if for the right reasons. She is also a believer in nuclear power and that it may hold the best answer to meeting our future power needs. So not the Annie Pettit you would imagine at first blush. I am lucky that I find people fascinating and enjoy getting to know them. It is a happy by product that this is key is achieving my clients aims. Arming myself with information as to the true nature of an opponent allows me to be an effective and persuasive advocate of my clients cause. It is wrong to think about law as a dry subject involving a lot of paper shuffling. Ultimately it is all about people and I love it.

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