Seattle Hempfest 2010: Freedom and Fallen Heroes

CANNABIS CULTURE – The nineteenth year of Seattle’s annual Hempfest was a smokey celebration of unprecedented progress in the cannabis community and a massive display of Drug War dissidence. Cannabis Culture took a trip to Seattle to burn with the greats of the marijuana movement and spread the message of pot freedom.

The gathering started on the morning of Saturday, August 21 on a stretch of several beautiful miles of Seattle coastline facing Elliot Bay. By the time I arrived at the North Gate with CC‘s Jodie Emery and my girlfriend photographer Carina Gonzalez, hundreds of eager activists and vendors were crowding in to man booths and lug in supplies.

Most vendors had set up their kiosks and tents the day before, and as we walked up the grassy-green coast we could see a long line of white tarps and colorful signs advertising t-shirts, bongs, pipes, vaporizers and every other kind of pot paraphernalia imaginable. Booths selling fried foods, fresh fruit, and ice cream treats lined both sides of the path and activists from legalization groups like NORML and Sensible Washington handed out flyers and asked for signatures on petitions.

Across the spread of parks and walkways, Hempfest organizers had assembled a series of large stages that would simultaneously play host to speeches by well-known cannabis activists and music by rocking bands and hip-hop artists. Close to the South entrance of the festival was the Hemposium, a large tent where cannabis activists could interact directly with festival-goers and answer questions about efforts to legalize marijuana and reform drug laws.

With my Hempfest program booklet in hand, I used a felt pen to mark off the speakers and musicians I wanted to see then spent most of the two-day event hopping from stage to stage, video and still cameras in hand, to absorb as much as possible.

Seattle Hempfest 2010 Photos – Day 1

[See the PHOTO GALLERY on Flickr]

The first speaker we saw was High Times Associate Publisher Rick Cusick, who gave a rabble-rousing speech about the true meaning of Seattle Hempfest.

“When I hear about the Seattle Hempfest I say to myself, what’s the Seattle Hempfest about?” he said. “Some people would say the Seattle Hempfest is about marijuana. Some people would say the Seattle Hempfest is about medicine. Some people would say the Seattle Hempfest is about hemp – the number one food, fuel, and fiber in the world – preferred by my good friend Jack Herer.

“Some people would say that’s what we are here for today, but you know something, when I think of the Seattle Hempfest that’s not the first word I think about. […] The very first thing I think about is the word ‘Freedom’.”

This was enough to get the crowd chanting the word ‘Freedom’.

“That’s right,” Cusick said, “that is the sweetest word in the world and that is what the Seattle Hempfest is about.” [CLICK HERE for VIDEO of Rick Cusick’s speech]

This years Hempfest was dedicated to Jack Herer, the legendary author and cannabis activist known as the Hemperor, author of the groundbreaking book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, who passed away last April.

Hempfest head organizer, Vivian McPeak spoke about his friend and fellow activist’s importance to the Hempfest family.

“This is really awkward for us, it’s heartbreaking actually, crushing, because since 1991 Jack always spoke at Hempfest,” he told the crowd. “He was the founder, the Grandfather, the Granddaddy, the Godfather of the cannabis and hemp movement. Jack spoke at 17 Hempfests. He was the most tireless and perennial advocate for our freedom that we’ve ever had. And Jack passed away last year. And you know, in a way his work is done. We are almost there – people know the message now. But losing Jack was a body-blow to our culture, our movement and our Hempfest family. This year this entire Seattle Hempfest is dedicated to Jack Herer, our brother.

“Last year Jack said from the stage that ‘hemp will be the future of mankind or there will be no future’. So this year we’re here to guarantee that there is a future.”

CC‘s own Jodie Emery was one of the main speakers at the festival, and in her four speaking appearances she discussed the plight of her husband Marc Emery, the Canadian businessman and pot activist who is serving time after being extradited to the US for selling marijuana seeds on the internet. Marc is currently imprisoned in SeaTac Federal Detention Center, just a few miles from the Seattle festival.

“Back in 1994 [Marc] went to Vancouver and he said, ‘this movement needs money. Our enemy has endless money. The government, the police, the prisons, they’ve got all the money and we need money.’ So he decided to sell marijuana seeds and said, ‘every dollar I raise will go back into the movement.’ Marc’s mission was very clear, he stated it on every order of seeds he filled and every dollar he spent. He wanted to ‘plant the seeds of freedom and overgrown the government!'” [CLICK HERE for VIDEO of Jodie Emery’s speech on the Main StageMcWilliams Stage]

‘Free Marc’ banners appeared on all three stages, and many people in the crowd were wearing ‘Free Marc’ shirts. Both Carina and I were sporting our ‘Free Marc’ shirts, and every few minutes someone from the crowd would shout out “FREE MARC!” We were left with no doubt the pot community hasn’t forgotten about our activist friend who did so much for the movement by spending virtually every penny of profits he ever made on legalization efforts.

“Everybody at Seattle Hempfest has been so good to my husband but has also been so good to you,” Jodie told the crowd from the large ‘Main Stage’. “To look at this and know that I’m standing in United States of America, where millions of people are locked up and arrested, their lives ruined, because of cannabis – that you’re able to have this here, where you can find out about where to buy marijuana seeds. And meanwhile, half an hour that way, my husband sits in a prison cell, maxim security, awaiting sentencing for selling seeds.” [CLICK HERE to find out how to HELP Marc Emery and take part in the SEPT 18 RALLY!]

Seattle Hempfest 2010 Photos – Day 2

See the PHOTO GALLERY on Flickr]

As we pushed through the crowd, we made our way past groups of smokers who sat down in shady locations under trees and to the sides of the path. Many bowls were lit and plumes of smoke filled the air in all directions. Another popular smoking location was the rocky coastline, where a constant stream of smokers were positioned from opening till closing on both days.

There were a few people in the crowd selling cannabis edibles like brownies and Rice Krispy squares, but Hempfest security was vigilant in removing them for what they said was everyones safety. “You don’t want to get Botulism from a treat made in someone’s bathtub, do you?” I heard one of them ask a would-be customer when they were busting someone.

During the second day we attended a memorial gathering for Jack Herer put together by the director of the film about Jack, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Melissa Balin. After activists shared some memories about Jack, pot activist/mascot Henry Hemp thought it the opportune time to get down on one knee and propose to Ms. Hemp (now Mrs. Hemp), January Thomas. It was beautiful moment and we congratulated the two and wished them a great future together.

Performing before and after featured speakers was a diverse line-up of bands and hip-hop acts who pounded out the beats and kept the crowd bouncing. I was there for a few notable performances by the Northwest Suns, The Click Clack Boom, and Shotgun Social, but missed other performances I wanted to see by The Herbivores and rappers Skee-Lo and some of the guys from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. There was always music playing on a stage somewhere, and a dedicated tent was set up for electronic music and dancing.

The Hemposium tent featured a consecutive line-up of five speakers at a time who talked briefly and interacted with the crowd. Victoria, British Columbia City Council Philippe Lucas hosted the panel discussion as several notables people from the pot community took part including, Todd McCormick, Rob Kampia, The Moss Family, Douglas Hiatt, Russ Belville, and Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles. [CLICK HERE for VIDEO of Sen. Kohl-Welles].

Backstage, in the pass-holder only areas, activists discussed some of the cannabis and hemp movement’s recent wins, like getting legalization on the ballot in California with Proposition 19. Naturally, we also discussed Washington’s near-win in almost getting legalization on the November ballot, and the crew from Sensible Washington was in full force.

Oddly-lovable porn star Ron Jeremy was on hand again this year (check out CC coverage of Seattle Hempfest 2009 for more of Ron) to hand out some expensive glass in a Hempfest raffle giveaway. He was kind enough to stick around after the show to take photos and sign breasts.

In the minutes before 4:20pm on the second day of the event, Jodie Emery and Rick Cusick lit up the crowd just before the crowd lit up their joints. And when the magic moment hit, the crowd sparked what seemed like a hundred or more fatties. A giant cloud filled the air above the crowd as the large yellow Hempfest collection box was pushed to the front of the stage. [CLICK HERE for VIDEO of the 4:20 SMOKEOUT Part 1Part 2]

It was an amazing site to see, and we were all elated to be part of such an open celebration of our beloved cannabis plant and passionate in our protest against the failed drug war. At the same time, I felt a little worried by the thought that, without some strong support from the cannabis community and general public this year, Seattle Hempfest may not be around in 2011. It was repeated several times over the weekend that Seattle Hempfest is in danger of disappearing due to unaffordable budgets and debt, so please go to the Hempfest website and donate or volunteer.

As we were leaving on Sunday evening, we bumped into Hempfest head organizer Vivian McPeak who had a big smile on his face, though I’m sure he was exhausted. I asked him if he would leave us with the final word on this years Hempfest.

“We’ve got free speech and we’ve got freedom of assembly raging in all of its glory here,” he said. “Somebody asked me in an interview yesterday, ‘if you could sum all of your experience in 19 years up from Hempfest with one word, what would it be?’ I thought for a second and I said ‘hope’. Cause if you can do this in the United States of America then there’s a lot of hope for everything else.” [CLICK HERE for VIDEO of Vivian McPeak]