This is the beginning of a series. My aim is to profile women who are active in left campaigns including the women’s movement, peace, trade unions and single issue campaigns. I want to explore their reasons for being politically active and the dilemmas for them as women, parents, carers and so on. I hope it will encourage other women, particularly younger women, to get involved in campaigns and I would welcome feedback on some of the issues that come up in the interviews.
Christine Clark has been active in politics for over thirty years:
I wasn’t politically active until I was 37 and went to University as a mature student. I met so many people from different walks of life including feminists. There was a brilliant library, I read Mary Wollstencroft and Simone de Beauvoir. I had a friend called Claudette who was black, my first black friend, and she gave me an insight into a different world
Christine did not come from a political family. Her dad was a bus driver and had had little education due to the First World War, whilst her mum came from a farming background, left school at 14 and was apprenticed as a seamstress at 15. Luckily she was encouraged by a local doctor to return to education and eventually, her mother after completing a chemistry degree, became a pharmacist.
Christine was good at Art but had learning difficulties and found the exam system unbearable:
My mum helped me with my English and Maths and I did get on a degree course at Leeds College of Art. But I fell in love with my teacher and became pregnant at 18 and had to get married. I knew nothing about contraception and went onto to have another child by the time I was 20.
When Christine became pregnant again shortly after giving birth, she decided she could not cope with another child. This was 1964 and there were no legal abortions:
My mother had a friend who was a doctor and believed in women’s right to abortion so she arranged it for me. It cost £100 (equivalent of £1000 today!) and my husband, my mum and a friend helped me get the money together. One day I just got the train to the doctor’s, had the abortion and then got the train home. Next day I went on holiday with my husband and two children to Lewes, where I was taken very ill with contractions and bleeding. I just took the pain for granted, I suppose I should have taken it easier. I didn’t contact a doctor or a hospital.
Being a young mother in the 1960s was not easy:
It was the 60s and many of our friends were artists and they were so free, ready to talk about all sorts of issues. Women were doing everything and I was so resentful because I was young but had all this responsibility.
In 1973 Christine went to Wolverhampton College of Art to do an Art degree:
My husband looked after the children during the week and I came home at weekends. I started reading and thinking more. My friends challenged my assumptions about life and everything.
In the 80s she got involved in women’s issues in Tameside:
I started listening to what was going on. Locally there was a group of women who started a WellWomens group. I went to the first meeting and so many women turned up that we didn’t have enough chairs.
On the 5th September 1981, the Welsh group “Women for Life on Earth” arrived on Greenham Common, Berkshire, England. They had marched from Cardiff with the intention of challenging, by debate, the decision to site 96 Cruise nuclear missiles there. On arrival they delivered a letter to the Base Commander which, among other things, stated ‘We fear for the future of all our children and for the future of the living world which is the basis of all life’. This was ignored and so they set up a Peace Camp just outside the fence surrounding RAF Greenham Common Airbase. Their protest lasted 19 years.
women surrounding the Greenham common airbase
There was a call in 1982 for people to go to Greenham Common. I went and just felt the power of women. It was revolutionary and I hadn’t seen anything like it.
From there Christine got involved with the peace movement and the Wages for Housework Campaign. WFH had been set up in 1972 by Selma James who said.” By demanding payment for housework we attack what is terrible about caring in our capitalist society, while protecting what is great about it, and what it could be. We refuse housework, because we think everyone should be doing it.”
Christine did her own one woman action outside a Post Office in Tameside:
My placards said that women’s right to benefits is sharing in the wealth of the country.
At the same time she moved out of the family home (which now included her 3 chidren, her parents and her brother):
I went to live by myself. I was becoming more politically aware and active. I became involved with the Labour Party and more formal politics. My involvement included raising issues such as Greenham Common and the new Child Support Act. I campaigned at every election, I didn’t vote for Tony Blair as leader and I opposed the abolition of Clause 4.
Her women’s politics have always been at the forefront of her activity:
In 1995 I went to the Beijing Womens Conference for three weeks. I also raised funds for women from the Developing World to join us.
By 1999 she had joined the Green Party:
I have always believed in respecting the land and animals, that we should not pollute the environment and I was always interested in growing things. I got this from my Mum and I think this was from her farming background.
Christine has been active in environmental campaigns, locally and nationally. She has stood as a Green Party candidate in local elections in Tameside:
The Green Party raises the issue of the cost that the Third World is paying for our wealth. We are dependant on each other and the environment.
In 2012 Christine is still active in the Green Party, in the Wages for Housework Campaign and the peace movement.She is also a grandmother
Looking back at her political life has made her think about the dilemmas that women face who are parents and political activists:
I have put so much emotional energy into changing things for everybody. Maybe I didn’t put enough into my children.
She is amazed how things have changed in the past 40 years:
So much was hidden from women in the 50s and 60s and nowadays my daughters and granddaughters are so educated. They are educating me! Its not one way though, it’s a different world, I want to join with them but it must be on human rights terms and it must be in encouraging all groups to work together and to make this a better world. In my opinion the Wages for Housework is a key campaign as it is addresses the fundamental issue of the economy. The economy relies on the unpaid work of people such as carers and the fact that this is unpaid and unrecognised affects everyone as it brings everyones’ wages down.
And her message to young women?
We should start from where they are. I have some interesting conversations with my granddaughter who is in her teens and is black. I try to be on her side and listen to what is important to her. As activists we must listen to them and what they are struggling with and give them support.
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