Political Women (5) Rae Street
Feminist, peace activist, environmentalist…..
Rae has been active in the peace movement for over 30 years. Born in Yorkshire, she didn’t come from a political family:
My mother was a working class conservative, due to growing up in dire poverty, where her earnings supported her family. From a Polish, Jewish immigrant family, she worked in a factory and she was desperate to become respectable”
Her father went at the age of 12 to work as a halftimer in the office of a local factory. His mother was widowed in 1918 and brought up him and his sister.
Rae benefitted from the post Second World War expansion of the education system:
I passed the 11+ and went to a High School. The teachers, who were mainly spinsters, did not like working class children entering the school. Luckily they had to draft in new teachers and I had a wonderful history teacher who taught us about socialism. The parents did not like it and complained to the head teacher!
She then got a place at Manchester University to study English but, unlike many of the students, she had to pay her way throughout her studies:
I felt like a fish out of water, with a Yorkshire accent and also I had to work every holiday to support myself at University. But I felt I learnt more from those jobs than I did in my studies.
Rae feels that there was a definite discrimination against her due to her accent and also her poverty:
I watched the Aldermaston March and, although I felt strongly about the issue, I felt I didn’t belong on the march because everyone seemed so posh.
After leaving University she turned down an opportunity to do research at Manchester because she didn’t know how she could fund herself through it and the Professor did not mention payment:
I just didn’t have the confidence to ask him about the money side so I gave up what could have been an interesting opportunity. But I returned to Leeds, completed a secretarial course, and eventually became a Publicity and Information Officer at what became Bradford University.
Her interest in peace work came out because of the times she was living in
I read the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson which alerted people to the detrimental affects of chemicals in the environment. I also watched the film, Hiroshima Mon Amour, which woke me up to the tragedy of Hiroshima.
In the late 70s she joined the Labour Party, and became active locally. In 1981 Rae joined her local Peace group in Rochdale which was affiliated to the national Campaign for Nuclear Disarnment.
In 1981 the decision by the Tory Government to site Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common in Berkshire led to the establishment of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. It became the focus for peace activists, many of whom were women. In December 1982, 30,000 women joined hands around the base at the Embrace the Base event:
Greenham was a liberating influence for me and the campaign has had a long lasting effect. I went down to the Embrace the Base event. I took my youngest daughter, who was 8 years at the time, unfortunately she witnessed the police horses who were out of control, women were arrested and thrown in police vans. She was really upset by the violence and after that I decided I couldn’t leave her for long periods.
Rae’s activity grew with the peace movement. She became involved in the European Campaign for Nuclear Disarnment and in 1986 she took part in a lecture tour of the USA:
I spoke at many meetings, from large university halls to community and women’s group. It was a great success and for me personally it was a great success, they couldn’t hear my accent and there was no class bias
She has visited and spoken in Japan, particularly around the commemoration of Hiroshima:
The peace movement there is amazing. There are many young activists, their peace bulletin has over 1 million subscribers!
Over the years Rae has held many posts in local and national CND. Including chair of the Greater Manchester and District CND and Vice chair of national CND. She also founded the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium Weapons and is on the steering committee of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons.
I have taken part and ‘carried the banner’ over the years in many non-violent demonstrations, rallies, blockades, sit ins and just standing with placards. Locally I am a strong believer for campaigning in a visible presence: streets stalls and letters to the local press – and that I have done.
Rae has been able to be so active because her husband has been supportive. Her daughters have also been active in the peace movement. One of her daughters was arrested aged 16 at Greenham Common peace camp.
More recently Rae has been trying to bring more young people into the peace movement:
We have been trying to set up groups in Universities and looking at how we can encourage younger people into the movement. We have got a group of young people involved with the anti-Uranium weapons campaign. Through events such as our Peace festival we do try and get younger people to join us.
And her message for young women?
Get involved. It’s not a distant issue. Trident and anti-militarism are important issues. Never feel you cannot do something, whether it is in a local peace group or through your trade union. Don’t think that politics is for someone else, it is for everyone.