Diversity & Inclusion

Why Ignite Philly 19 was a sign of the times (plus, animal genitalia)

A politically heavy lineup of talks went down at FringeArts last night. And at least one lighthearted one.

Jo Johnson, #TuesdaysWithToomey organizer, at Ignite Philly 19. (Courtesy photo)

When news of Ignite Philly venue change broke, one of the doubts organizer Geoff DiMasi’s shared with us was: will the habitual raucous environment of Fishtown bar Johnny Brenda’s be missed?

And though it kinda was missed, the habitual fire in the five-minute talks from a dozen speakers kept the FringeArts Theater wrapped in a very similar energy.

In keeping with our current times, the lineup of talks was a politically heavy one. Rousing calls for citizens to get involved in causes like conservationism, local government and intersectional feminism were made from the stage.

Let’s get to the highlights of the evening, but first, some news. Ignite is getting a guest curator in professor and TED speaker Natalie Nixon. Look out for her picks in the next edition of the event in September.


First up was ComicBookJunto’s power duo Octavius Newman and Adam Teterus talking about a pretty striking experience: Teterus gave Newman his kidney. His freaking kidney.

The duo shared more about the experience itself in this interview with Geekadelphia but took their five minutes to talk about how donors shouldn’t be considered heroes, but more like regular people who went and took the plunge.

So why did Teterus decide he wanted to do this? Pretty simple:

One of the most applauded talks of the evening followed when Jo Johnson, organizer of the #TuesdaysWithToomey movement, recounted her path from outraged citizen to civic activist thanks to Facebook and the support of a few like-minded friends.

“That first week there was seven of us,” said Johnson, 54, of the first time they showed up at Sen. Pat Toomey’s office. “Then something started to solidify.”

Then followed Mjumbe Poe with an incredible pitch: sitting down to talk about the future and exploring what it would look like from different perspectives. The civic activist and developer had been curating dinner parties with friends to talk about what the next decades would hold and shared some of the conclusions from the sessions.

When it came time for former City Council candidate Andrew Stober, the crowd seemed to snap right back into activism mode. Stober warned of the perils of focusing on national electoral races and ignoring local ones.

The political train drove on with the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director Mike DiBernardinis who, following a raving introduction from DiMasi, talked about how the city managed to land the soda tax (also known as BevTax.)

Former Technical.ly Delaware reporter Rana Fayez, who’s pivoting her career to web development, took the mic up next to say a few words about a deep concept: intersectional feminism. Following a sweep through feminism’s history, Fayez spoke out about finding ways to add more inclusivity to the feminism movement (plus some pretty obscure punk-rock references).

By this point the politics thread seemed thick enough. But there was time for more representation from the city by way of Marisa Waxman, the City’s Deputy Revenue Commissioner, for a talk on how the city is applying behavioral economics to processes like the senior citizen discount on water bills and the collection of real estate tax.

Billy Penn editor Chris Krewson then took the stage to talk about a subject he know a lot about: fake news (jk, Chris.)

The local news site partnered with PolitiFact.com to help weed out shady news reports and flag them on platforms like Facebook.

If you ever had a great idea stashed away like HiRes Podcast’s Ryan Starr, the designer shared some tips on getting from cool thought to actual thing.

Perhaps the evening’s greatest hit ensued right after. Temple University’s Stephanie Spielman, Ph. D., an professor in evolutionary biology, took the stage to talk about animal penises for five minutes, prompting oohs and aahs from the audience at every other specimen.

The professor took a sweeping look at the animal kingdom: the elephant and its massive unit, the ducks’ corkscrew package and the amazing argonaut octopus and his detachable penis. Or as Spielman christened it: #ZombieDick.

Oscar Beisert, preservationist, rocked the best segue in Ignite history per DiMasi: “I’m not going to talk about erections but rather permanent erection.”

He was of course talking about buildings.

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