Most Influential

Most Influential, Equity: Matt Chan

Activist, entrepreneur

By Chris S. Nishiwaki January 24, 2024

Matt Chan

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Matt Chan on Saturday, March 30, 2024. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and loved ones during this difficult time.


Matt Chan has been a provocateur much of his life, from his childhood in Portland, to his time as a student at the University of Oregon, and throughout a successful career in television production.

Most recently, Chan successfully fought King County’s plans to develop a homeless shelter in the Chinatown-International District. Chan arrived at a public hearing to protest the proposed shelter mere hours after his first chemotherapy session to fight kidney cancer. Less than two months later, King County dropped the plan.

“We slowed (the proposed plan) until the timeline couldn’t work,” Chan says of his strategy in mobilizing community activists. “The thing about community engagement is that so many politicians will select people who would agree with them. No, you have to hear stuff from people who are against what you want to do.”

Choosing to work exclusively with progressive candidates of color, he has recently produced campaign ads for successful candidates including King County Council member Girmay Zahilay, state Sen. Joe Nguyen, and Port of Seattle commissioners Sam Cho, Hamdi Mohamed, and Toshiko Grace Hasegawa. He has also consulted with King County Prosecutor Leesa Manion.

“The main mistake people make about storytelling is to want to tell their story,” Chan says of his communications strategy. “A successful storyteller targets the audience.”

Chan, for instance, convinced Zahilay, Nguyen, and Mohamed to downplay their stories of immigration because he didn’t think they would resonate with voters.

“You are trying to reach people who won’t naturally vote for you, and you need to tell them something they believe,” Chan says. “Nobody wants to hear (you came over on a boat). You are instantly saying ‘I am not you. I am different.’ Instead, you should talk about adversity. All families have faced adversity. You are including the audience, not excluding them.”

Chan was also a producer on the reality show Hoarders, which first aired in 2009. Three weeks later, the show was featured on Oprah. By 2011, it had won a Critic’s Choice Award and became the A&E network’s highest-rated show ever.

The show is still on the air.

Follow Us

Movers & Shakers

Movers & Shakers

Profiling the people who shaped Seattle

Back in April 1968, Seattle magazine published a feature similar to our Most Influential issue, focusing on those who "truly call the shots."

Most Influential, Sports: Kalen Deboer

Most Influential, Sports: Kalen Deboer

Former University of Washington football coach

He started out small, leading Sioux Falls to three NAIA championships in his five years as head coach. He then worked his way up the NCAA food chain with stops at Southern Illinois and Western Michigan... Photo by Scott Eklund / Redbox Pictures

Most Influential, Arts: Shin Yu Pai

Most Influential, Arts: Shin Yu Pai

Poet, author, podcaster

Pai is an award-winning author, podcaster, and the city of Seattle’s 2023-24 Civic Poet. She has spent more than two decades in the literary field, penning 13 books... Photo by Sung Park

Most Influential, Arts: Jose Iñiguez

Most Influential, Arts: Jose Iñiguez

Educator, musician

Jose Iñiguez discovered the art of opera through a PBS special. As a teenager, he came across a program featuring a tenor singing an aria while watching TV with his dad... Photo by Ashley Genevieve