Saviors of Seattle Hempfest
By Karen E. Szabo
Held annually the third weekend in August, Cannabis connoisseurs join together by the tens of thousands to celebrate what has become the world’s largest protestival, the Seattle Hempfest. But what most people probably don’t know is that the celebrations of 2004 had the potential to quite possibly be the final Hempfest if it weren’t for one couple’s strong beliefs, love and dedication.
The majority of interviews conducted regarding Seattle Hempfest are traditionally focused on its key speakers, performing bands and the movement’s continuous success. Recently Sativa Magazine had the privilege of speaking with the Seattle Hempfest Executive Director, Vivian McPeak regarding a topic that’s never been touched on before. Who saved Seattle Hempfest?
Seattle’s downtown Myrtle Edwards Park is the home of the Hempfest, an event put on each year by a team of dedicated volunteers and supported directly by private donations. In 2004, Mother Nature wreaked havoc on the 13th annual Seattle Hempfest. Heavy rains throughout that year’s event minimized turnout, leaving the organization with an unexpected debt of $24,000.
Described as a majestic, very tall, incredible woman with dreadlocks that reached the ground, Seattle Hempfest former Treasurer Share Parker and her husband Jim had been involved with the protestival since the very beginning. Believing wholeheartedly in ending the war on drugs, bringing prohibition to an end, they were not going to let a little financial difficulty stop what they had been fighting so hard for. So, they mortgaged their Maple Valley home and donated all the funds to the Seattle Hempfest to pay off the debt acquired that year.
Included in the staff of a thousand volunteers was Share’s family trio. Not only were Share and her husband members, but Share’s step-son, James held a position on the Entertainment Committee as the Band/Speaker coordinator for the protestival. Share was not only Seattle Hempfest Treasurer, but also the bass player for the Hempfest house band, the Herbivores.
In 2005, shortly after the festival ended and cleanup was complete, James came down with what they thought was the “post Hempfest flu.” Something not uncommon amongst staff members whose immune systems are lowered after the amount of hours put in during those ten days. However, James’ symptoms progressively became worse requiring him to be admitted into the hospital. Unfortunately, James was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. A healthy, active young man in his early 30s, James switched to a vegan diet, concentrating on cancer-fighting foods along with a regimen of chemotherapy and cancer-fighting drugs. With the support of his family, the community but most particularly his partner Beth, James immediately immersed himself in every activity that could help him beat his illness. He paid little attention to the statistics because he knew if he were to beat the cancer he would need to be completely in mind of himself. A Hempfest interfaith prayer group formed and met weekly with James.
Sadly, not long after James’ diagnosis, Share learned that she had cervical cancer. Share refused to slow down and, as most parents do, she put her illness after everything else and continued to focus on James, his health and her work with the Seattle Hempfest. At a time when most others would have been curled up in bed too ill to do anything else, Share continued on as if nothing was wrong. So much so that at one point she was caught feverishly working on the Hempfest taxes when she should have been resting. When she was somewhat scolded by Vivian for doing such work, she told him “we all have to die sometime.”
Since Share got involved with Hempfest at its beginning, she was able to view firsthand the yearly spread of the movement to end the war on drugs. Attendance grew from a mere 500 people in 1991 to an estimated 200,000 people in 2006. Sadly, Share’s last hempfest was marred by the death of James just a few weeks before the festival began on August 2, 2006. And a short four months later on December 4, 2006, Share passed away as well. These two fighters may be gone, but they are never forgotten.
Share leaves a legacy which touches the lives of hundreds of thousands every year even though the public is unaware of her bold move which possibly saved Hempfest from ruin in 2004 and allowed the movement to grow. Margaret Mead – one of the first American Anthropologists – could have been talking about this family when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals could change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Approximately 280,000 people attended Hempfest in 2012, and with legalization later that year one can only predict even more will turn out this year to partake in their beloved protestival.