• Written by David B. Clark
“Changing places is not just about watching the changes—it is about our own power to change the places and issues we care about,” welcomed Elizabeth Coppinger, Executive Director and Curator of TEDxSeattle. TEDxSeattle is a nonprofit event that is licensed by TED. It is independently organized and ran by volunteers. From its humble beginnings gathering 600 attendees as TEDxRainier in 2010, TEDxSeattle now sold out McCaw Hall’s (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109) 2,800 seat auditorium on Saturday, November 18th.
TEDx webTEDxSeattle event (Photo by David B. Clark)The evening’s host and interactive host were Deborah Wang and John Kaufmann, respectively. Wang is an award-winning journalist that locally has served as a news reporter for KUOW Public Radio and hosts IN CLOSE on KCTS 9. Kaufmann is an award-winning theater director, professor, and performer. Kaufmann used his learned and innate abilities to keep the audience entertained between sessions while actively urging a progressive and interactive atmosphere between attendees throughout the event.
Wang introduced the first session, Changing the Game. She explained that changing the game was about, “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes with empathy.” Wang went on to explain that the speakers in this session had harnessed what it means to look at the status quo and think, “how can we do this better?”
The session contained a UW data science professor, an innovative musician, a librarian passionate about free access to research, yet it was the young but by no means meek Aji Piper that captivated the audience and demanded their attention with charisma as stylish as it was impassioned.
Piper, now 17-years-old, began growing up in Port Orchard on the Kitsap Peninsula. He learned young in life about his passion for the earth and our environment. From the age of 12, Piper has been a climate-change activist. His mother encouraged him to speak at a rally to protest oil trains in Seattle.
Ukulele in hand, Piper regaled McCaw Hall with the simple but effective song he wrote and protested with over five years ago. Foreshadowing prevailed and Piper is the incarnation of his own foretelling.
Years after his first protest, he and other student activists banded together and sued the Washington State Department of Ecology to enact new regulatory standards by utilizing current science to mitigate climate-change. The students won. Now, Piper is one of 21 youth plaintiffs suing the United States Government in a Landmark U.S. Federal Climate Lawsuit. “I’m willing to use the courts to amplify my voice,” stated Piper. “My future is at stake.” Piper continued, “When I started this work I thought it was just about saving the planet… I understand this is really about saving us.” TEDxSeattle chose Piper because they feel we need to hear from the generation that will live with the consequences of our actions. Piper is the embodiment of a future that will not allow its actuality tainted with the selfish need of immediacy. “You don’t have to change places with me, just hear my voice,” said Piper as he brought everyone in McCaw Hall to their feet.
The second session of the day was Changing the Future. The series of speakers wound between the hopes of a hyperloop allowing travel from Seattle to Portland in just 20 minutes, using “mixed reality” to develop and introduce new ways of storytelling through VR, and the truth of eliminating some of the world’s most deadly diseases. Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, a Seattle-based foundation focused on global health, shared that we will likely see the very last case of polio next year.
Session three was Changing the Intolerable. Loaded with music from the Tacoma Refugee Choir. It was a look at sustainable fashion meeting conservation, and awareness brought to the problem of child sex trafficking in Seattle. The session’s weight was heavy but forward-thinking and hopeful. It was when two architects took the stage and shared their plan to end homelessness one tiny home at a time that the audience erupted.
Rex Hohlbein and Jenn LaFreniere are a father-daughter duo that has dedicated themselves and their work to humanize homelessness. Hohlbein is no novice to the TEDxSeattle stage. In 2014, he gave a talk titled, “Facing Homelessness.” Now, with the help of his daughter, he has literally been building on his work. There are roughly 12,000 homeless individuals in King County today. “We are at a critical tipping point… change or accept homelessness,” said Hohlbein. LaFreniere continued, “Homelessness affects every one of us… we carry a piece of it with us.” Hohlbein then talked on how the issue is the general population’s idea of homelessness. “The oneness of homelessness is a major stumbling block,” he explained. The two architects have a plan on how to end homelessness in Seattle.
The BLOCK Project invites communities to actively fight homelessness by allowing one 125 square foot home placed in the backyard of a single-family lot. The goal is to have a home on every residentially zoned block in the City of Seattle. These homes are entirely off-grid meaning they accrue no utility bills and are entirely green, boasting solar panels and greywater systems. “This is not just shelter but a home and community to live in,” said Hohlbein. LaFreniere understands apprehensions of community members. “This isn’t about trading comfort,” she said. Every single resident on the block would have to be comfortable having this house constructed and allowing a screened and compatible person move into the house. If even one person was uncomfortable with the situation then the project would not move forward. The BLOCK Project is community built, funded, and supported. The duo was excited to announce that over 50 families have already said yes to this initiative. “This is about the need to belong,” concluded Hohlbein.
The fourth and final session was titled Changing the Human Spirit. Speakers and performers centered on hope. Boeing’s Vice President of Marketing Fariba Alamdari shared her inspiring story of flipping sociocultural blockades and turning what others perceived as weaknesses into strengths. Among others to take the stage were a former Executive Creative Director at Creature with an affinity for the night sky, the race-and-social-justice studio, Northwest Tap Connection who delivered a booming performance, and a Native American tribal attorney that shared his lesson of courage from Standing Rock.
Change is something that is constant and always in flux. We have the power to fight for what we believe in and actively make the communities we live in more supportive, inclusive, and sustainable.
For more information:
On Aji Piper - please visit:
On Rex Hohlbein, Jenn LaFreniere, and The BLOCK Project - please visit:
On TEDxSeattle - please visit:

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