This piece was originally published in Green Line magazine issue 26 (Oct 1984) in the "I was there" series. Patrick Whitefield gives a contemporary account of the Green Gathering which was held at the Molesworth airbase proposed site of the second Cruise Missile deployment. The Green Collective in organising the gathering intended that it should be open ended and people would be encouraged to stay to set up a "second front" for mass action alongside the established Greenham Common (women's) Camp.
THE FIFTH national Green Gathering was held, not in the cosiness of a Somerset farm, but on Ministry of Defence land — USAF MoleSworth in Cambridgeshire. It was a new departure for the Green Gathering in more ways than one.
More important, it was not just a gathering of green people for the purpose of sharing our greenness, but a stage in the process of taking back the land from the military and putting it to good use. At present the base is a wide open area of grassland, and wheat had been planted there in the spring by local greens The main purpose Of the Gathering was to harvest that crop, intended for the starving people of Eritrea, and to prepare the land for next year's crop. It was also an opportunity for more people to settle in and make this land their permanent home before work is due to start on making Molesworth a cruise missile base next February.
The Gathering itself was different from previous ones in many ways. The most important difference was that it was free, financed by a large donation from CND and many smaller ones from individuals. There was no gate and no charge for entry. When you take money off people there is a strong tendency for them to feel they're "punters" and to expect things to be done for them. But at Molesworth people were not only looking for ways in which they could help, but seeing what needed doing and doing it on their own initiative.
A good example of this was the sight of people happily up to their elbows in rubbish, sorting it into compost, burnable, recyclable metal, and glass, etc., and setting up separate containers for the rubbish thereafter. Previously all this energy would have gone into the thankless task of taking money at the gate; at Molesworth it went into work that's positively green.
From the practical, physical point of view this was one of the few signs that this was a gathering of greens rather than any other bunch of pleasant people. There was a stall with a windmill for its electricity supply, and someone cooking on a sawdust stove — a highly economical way of using firewood. But these individual cases were overshadowed by the continuing use of disposable plates, cups and cutlery by the majority of stallholders. The fact is it's extremely difficult to run a food stall economically without using disposables; and it's a problem we must all face up to and not just leave to the stallholders themselves. At future gatherings perhaps we could all carry our own cup and bowl and wash them up ourselves. Sure it involves some effort, but we‘re never going to save this planet without any effort at all.
This year there was some amplified music. A number of people complained about it, and the volume was gladly turned down. In fact the electric music was a useful contribution because fewer acoustic musicians than usual turned‘up and the Gathering would have been short on music without it. It also represented a new development, a widening of the circle which a Green Gathering is, without in any way losing the unique atmosphere which by now has grown strong enough to handle a little variety.
There were puppet shows, theatre, clowns, dragon processions, juggling and fire-eating, swingboats and a roundabout. There were constant workshops on subjects all the way from juggling to the problem of reconciling anarchy with structure, including such things as chanting and drumming, tai chi, rebirthing and a men's group.
One day was especially for the children, with a party and a show put on by themselves. Some kids who felt they’d been dragged along by their parents began to feel really involved at this point, and the day was certainly a good innovation. It included a sweat lodge session especially for the children, the first time anyone can remember this being done. It was a great success, as was the women-only sweat lodge. The latter was one of the most beautiful spells of the Gathering, with men sitting quietly round the Tipi circle-cooking and holding babies, while women made strong magic in the middle.
The harvesting and preparing of the new ground was somewhat separate from the Gathering itself, but many people went down to help with the building of the peace chapel. It was hardly a typical building site: people were chipping the cement off old bricks, gardening, chanting, drumming, building, preparing straw for thatch, and playing music, all together. The Bishop of Huntingdon came to take part in the dedication ceremony, but it was by no means a Christian monopoly. There were Buddhists, Witches, Pagans and others taking part.
The Gathering became a real home in several ways. There were daily site meetings to which anyone could come and discuss the running of the community. The atmosphere at the meetings was very peaceful and non-competitive. Molesworth was a home base from which people went out to the blockade of nearby USAF Alconbury.
When the news came that the Convoy had been attacked by the police in Yorkshire, their homes wrecked, their money stolen, the men arrested and pressured into signing false statements, a feeling went round the site that we wanted to do everything we could to help them. This included welcoming as many of them who wanted and were able to come and share our ‘ home. Previously the Gathering has shunned the Convoy as people too rough and immoral to be associated with — afraid of soiling our image. This time it was different. Though hardly anyone would deny that the Convoy are the roughest end of the travelling people, we saw them as people in need rather than as a threat to our respectability.
At its peak the Gathering numbered about two thousand people. Those who stayed to make Molesworth their permanent home could be numbered in dozens. But the energy that has stayed there is formidable. One person said, "I want to put my whole energy into this place all winter. I want to build something they'll be ashamed to knock down in front of the television cameras when the construction crews come here in February."
THE NEXT BIG EVENT will be on OCTOBER 20, when a winter wheat crop will be sown on the land ploughed during the Gathering. Following that, at the WINTER SOLSTICE, we will be gathering at Molesworth for an ALTERNATIVE TO CHRISTMAS.
See you there