Spring is upon us, and my favorite Protestival is around the corner, Seattle Hempfest. A social experiment that has lasted over 25 years proving that marijuana is not the drug being taught in High School.
For over 25 years people have gathered in Seattle to celebrate a plant and to protest a bad law. Throughout the years what started as a small band of merry men and women turned into a three-day festival where over 300,000 people gather. As a cannasseur this should be a bucket list checkmark, even if you don’t stay the whole time (3 miles of people, food, and music can be exhausting), its worth a visit just to see what a no drug war can look like. A safe place where there’s a mutual respect between the police and community.
I recently sent Vivian McPeak a message, the man most noted to be behind this event, and he was kind enough to answer my questions;
Weed News: Appearances are deceiving, as a man of shorter stature you’re a big presence in the hearts of many. You’re famous for being one of those that started Seattle Hempfest, an event that attracts 200 plus thousand people for a three-day nonprofit party that celebrates a plant. Famous before the internet, what do you think attributes to that?
Vivian: I think that probably means that I am old more than anything else. Action was my power word for a lot of years, and I was just involved in a lot of demonstrations, projects, acts, etcetera. I really think that it comes down to exposure. Whatever people are most exposed to is what they will identify with, and if people see you, your name, or image a lot, they tend to translate that into fame, which is a very slippery thing – very hard to hang on to.Weed News: Seattle Hempfest is a 25 plus year social experiment that is a party that proves marijuana is not the drug people are taught to fear, in fact, some hate or others don’t care but should for the sake of liberty. Can you tell me about your book that reflects on the Festival?
Weed News: Seattle Hempfest is a 25 plus year social experiment that is a party that proves marijuana is not the drug people are taught to fear, in fact, some hate or others don’t care but should for the sake of liberty. Can you tell me about your book that reflects on the Festival?
Vivian: “Protestival: A Twenty Year Retrospective of Seattle Hempfest” from Aha Publishing, is a book I wrote that chronicles year by year the first two decades of the world’s largest annual cannabis event. There are over 160 photographs in the book, which has a chapter for each year, and each chapter starts with the poster from that year. It tells the story of how a small handful of stoners had an idea that blossomed into a rogue, insurgent yet world famous resistance event.
Weed News: Some would consider you a forefather of present day legalization, what were your fondest memories? Everyone knows Jack Herer but who inspires you?
Vivian: Jack Herer was certainly a giant inspiration to me, as we were friends for a long time. Jack only missed one Seattle Hempfest until he passed away, and that was the year he had his initial stroke. And then he was back in the saddle in almost no time, publicly speaking before he could even publicly speak, he was so driven. Jack might have been the most driven person I’ve ever known. Frankly, I think his drive might have killed him. But Jack was a terribly laser focused person. He was the center of the room he was in. I miss Jack terribly.Woody Harrelson spoke two different years on the Seattle Hempfest Main Stage, barefoot both times. I recall providing Jack and Woody a huge nugget of Blue Magoo to sample that they had brought backstage. Woody had been fasting for almost 30 days. When he came out to speak, he was definitely in the right mood to connect with the massive audience that went as far as you could see. That was all caught in our documentary “No Prison for Pot” that is in DVD form in the back of my book Protestival.
Woody Harrelson spoke two different years on the Seattle Hempfest Main Stage, barefoot both times. I recall providing Jack and Woody a huge nugget of Blue Magoo to sample that they had brought backstage. Woody had been fasting for almost 30 days. When he came out to speak, he was definitely in the right mood to connect with the massive audience that went as far as you could see. That was all caught in our documentary “No Prison for Pot” that is in DVD form in the back of my book Protestival.
Weed News: You’ve been a staple in the Northwest with Hempfest and The Peace Heathens who help the community, but I first became aware of you when my friend Johnny Green wrote an article, what are your thoughts on legalization and the internet?
Vivian: The internet has created new ways for people to stay connected in a world that increasingly disconnects and isolates us. The speed by which we can all communicate and share ideas, files and data have increased our ability to organize and strategize. By decentralizing the flow of information and data, the world has opened up in terms of how we can mobilize people and distribute information.
In the beginning, there was a disproportionate 420 factor in the techie world, and while that has probably dissipated a little bit with the mainstreaming of the technology, the stoners took to the internet like an Indica plant to a Halide light. The advent of e-mail and social media platforms has been partly responsible for the swiftness and breadth of recent cannabis movement victories.
Weed News: We’re Facebook friends, and I see you coming to terms with the power of social media, have you found that middle ground as being the guy who started the largest three-day party in the world that fits an eclectic crowd and the interwebs?
Vivian: Well, I was there in the very beginning, but there are other people who also are very responsible for Hempfest beginning in 1991, so I don’t want to take too much credit where it should be passed around a bit. There are some people named Gary, Chris, Joe, etc. who were pivotal folks in getting Seattle Hempfest started. It has been a long hard road from that point, but it is important to remember that thousands of people have worked on Hempfest to get it where it is today. Seattle Hempfest is a testament to their sweat equity and draws inspiration from their perspiration.
Weed News: What are your thoughts on social media?
Vivian: Wow, I have many thoughts on that subject. I honestly wrestle with how to approach social media almost on a daily basis. There is an impersonal aspect to e-mail and social media that seems to make it easy for us to disconnect with the fact that there are human beings on the other side of or keyboard and monitor. Community is such a big part of my life that I am very attracted to social media, and as an organizer, it is a very effective tool. At the same time, social media opens us up to scrutiny and potential sabotage and penetration. People who are fairly high profile should be mindful about being too open about provocative and controversial opinions. You do not know who is out there, potentially obsessing; But with all of that said I enjoy social media a lot, perhaps too much.
Weed News: Since marijuana is not a priority for police in Seattle area, how have you seen relationship changes between the local law and the community?
Vivian: I think that, overall, we have been blessed here in Seattle with a police force that has seen cannabis as a low priority since the citizens voted it that way with Initiative 75, in 2003. At Hempfest, we have always worked hard to forge a relationship of trust and honesty with law enforcement, and it has worked well for us over the years. We have great respect for all of the first responders we work directly with. As the laws change and the skies remain intact, we are going to see old misconceptions fall away. We need to speed the process up so we can save as many lives from the effect of the division and resentment that has built up in communities against law enforcement. And we need cops to see that we are not a dangerous criminal element.
Weed News: What projects do you have going on?
Vivian: Well, I have a weekly radio show called Hempresent on CannabisRadio.com and Iheart Radio, I am working on putting together the 26th annual Seattle Hempfest, and I’m putting my website together at vivianmcpeak.com. That pretty much has me busy right now. Of course, I am gearing up for what looks like it will be the social justice struggle of my lifetime considering who is sitting in the White House these days.
Weed News would like to thank Vivian for taking the time to answer our questions and encourage all lovers of cannabis to support Seattle Hempfest, especially in these times where the administration in charge chooses to remain ignorant on all this cannabis and feel the need to reinforce an archaic racist law. Seattle Hempfest proves 250K plus people cab gather more peacefully than any Octoberfest. It also educates us that it’s the law that is flawed, not the American standing up to it.Thank you, Vivian and all of Seattle Hempfest for doing what you do.
Thank you, Vivian and all of Seattle Hempfest for doing what you do.