Jamen Shively, co-founder and president of radish.org, is better known as Darth Vader on campus. He appears every now and then at the George Washington statue off of Red Square in his full costume, rain or shine, though he has to take the helmet off in order to serenade the student body about Washington’s need to eradicate criminal drug cartels. If you haven’t seen him in the flesh yet, you’ve probably at least seen him on a Snapchat story or the UW meme Facebook page.
Shively retired from his position as corporate strategy manager at Microsoft in 2009, and is a self-proclaimed “wizard in marketing.” He became one of the early players on the emerging cannabis scene after it was legalized in 2013 and founded the company Diego Pellicer. The brand is named after his great-grandfather, who Shively says was the largest grower of hemp in the world during the Victorian era.
As Diego Pellicer started gaining media attention, Shively became very interested in the issues he sees with federal prohibition of drugs. He and his “old friend,” former Mexican president Vincente Fox, hosted a series of press conferences and a three-day symposium, outlining the violence that they believe federal prohibition creates.
“Within a few months of that, a specific drug cartel began to target me and my family,” Shively said. “They said ‘Jamen, if you don’t get out of the media, we will get rid of you.’ And so I did for awhile, but that was really hard for me to live with. I started to develop a burning anger and sense of injustice that these criminal drug cartels had effectively shut me down.”
This anger was stoked by Melissa Koch, a local artist and environmental activist whom Jamen met at a retirement home where both their mothers were residents of about a year ago.
“When he told me about his experience with drug cartels, I urged him to act on this,” Koch said. “You know what they call those, when something bad happens but it actually serves the greater good? Blessings in disguise.”
Shively determined that instead of trying to go after one specific criminal drug cartel, it is “far easier, far safer, and far more effective” to get rid of all criminal drug cartels through a change in public policy. That change, Shively proposes, would be the repeal of federal prohibition on all drugs, leaving individual states to decide for themselves what they want to do.
“The thing that made drug cartels so violent, so rich, and so powerful, is precisely prohibition, and the war on drugs,” he said.
Shively doesn’t have a set suggestion for what we should replace prohibition with; he instead emphasizes that it’s up to all of us, as a state, to decide the best solution.
“For example, we might replace it with government-run clinics that distribute the drugs, where we look at the consumer not as a profit-generating customer, but as a patient,” he said. “These clinics’ overall goals would be to reduce harm and reduce usage, whereas the private sector would only care about profit.”
Shively’s goal to eradicate criminal drug cartels, however, is only one piece of the puzzle.
“What I’m trying to raise awareness about is these ghoulishly violent drug cartels in Washington, as well as the concept of an off-ramp to the ‘highway to hell’ that we’re on here on planet earth,” he said. This “highway to hell” is referring to his idea that abrupt climate change and mass extinction are a reality, and they are approaching rapidly.
Shively refers to the work of Guy McPherson, professor emeritus in natural resources and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, who he hosted at the East Bay Sierra Club in last spring.
“There is historical precedence for the phenomena of abrupt climate change, though not during a time when there were humans on the planet,” McPherson said. “It appears that there is irreversible, unstoppable climate change occurring, which will result in loss of habitats at first, and eventually the loss of complex life on earth. This event will be comparable to a mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic, which resulted in the loss of 90 percent of species.”
Shively’s reaction to this is his proposed “off-ramp,” of which eradicating criminal drug cartels is only the first step. He claims that once the United States has achieved that, it will have amassed political capital “comparable to Alexander the Great.” Shively claims that the United States can then leverage that capital to end all forms of organized crime, from the mafia to the crimes humanity is committing against the planet.
“See, if I skip these two steps, and I just held up a sign that said ‘Protect Mother Earth,’ everyone would walk by,” he said. “I would be just another environmentalist, everyone would think that they know what I’m thinking already. And the single most important lesson in marketing is this: You cannot worm your way into people’s minds, little by little with logic, you have to blast your way in. I am blasting my way into people’s minds with the costume, the singing, the lightsaber.”
Shively doesn’t just stage his protest-performances at the UW though, and he’s not always alone. On July 4, he flew up artist Doctress Neutopia to Seattle to protest with him.
“We sat in a traffic triangle while he sang and danced, and I just sat there and meditated,” Neutopia said. “My meditation was about world peace, healing the environment, stopping this consumer society while the traffic whizzed by us in this urban shopping center. It was ten hours and I survived it.”
If students are interested in Shively’s plan to divert our path down the highway to hell, he encourages them to come up and start a conversation with him next time he’s performing on campus and to even put forward their own ideas.
“He’s a really interesting person, because he’s got such a compassionate nature,” Koch said. “His mindset is big, I would even call it cosmic, and he’s very generous, which I use in the Buddhist sense of the word.”
Reach contributing writer Charlotte Houston at email@example.com. Twitter: @choustoo