It’s not very often you meet someone in Long Beach who can handle criticism—be it an individual or some conglomerate of folks like City Hall. It’s kind of a self-induced allergy specific to Long Beach: if you call something out, you better hope you have backup because you may never survive.
Enter Markus Manley: “Hey. Sit down. Let’s eat. I have an idea.”
It is impossible to talk about Markus in some objective sense; you have to personalize it. And though I had had many face-to-face encounters with Markus—the Long Beach Post was momentarily part of his at-the-time experiment known as WE Labs, now a full-fledged creative force in Long Beach—it wasn’t until I saw him approach criticism that I understood the power of what he was trying to achieve.
I wrote a piece which (to be entirely honest) I didn’t think would stir up controversy. For me, it was just blunt fact: venture capital investment had come to everywhere in SoCal but Long Beach. It was a painful fact, a disheartening fact, but a fact nonetheless. Even more, it wasn’t a jab at our tech and creative communities on any level. My discussion with Richard Florida confirmed a mutual bafflement: it made no sense because Long Beach holds the hand to own the game but didn’t.
In all-things-Markus, he saw criticism—but not in the pejorative way that people often view criticism, particularly in Long Beach. As cheesy as it sounds, he saw opportunity. And as not cheesy as it sounds, he acted upon it and envisioned a way to grasp it that others couldn’t.
Did he create outcry in the comment section that staunchly defended the lively creative scene? Did he say the piece was bullshit? Did he run up and down the streets screaming Long Beach was perfect but just no one understands?
He took to his WE Labs creation and in turn created a space for people to pitch ideas. And before he could even live to see it, he set up a future, more in depth Pitch Lab event that would include a venture capitalist, a marketer, and a lawyer. A triad of knowledge and constructive criticism for whatever idea you pitched.
He did things: he kept Long Beach weird—something he told me he hoped to do in the last interview he ever provided (and something that still induces both a sense of honor and sadness within me when I think about it too much).
That’s not easy. That’s not easy in a city that is the thirty-third largest in the States. That’s not easy in a city whose policies are often restricting, where creatives—be they business folk or artistic folk—have to continually battle uphill to get things done. He blew off the dust of ideas that people had given up on. He brought forth others into his world because he knew, in the end, one should work for one’s self but not by one’s self (a mantra written in chalk at WE Labs). He always viewed things in this beautifully subversive manner: after all, rather than bringing venture capital in, he felt Long Beach was powerful enough to bring it out.
And these things, his achievements, are hidden everywhere in Long Beach, in a way that may not be instantaneously noticeable. After all, Markus was not a politician and rhetorician continually seeking recognition; he sought answers and development. There is no plaque, there is no sign—though there should be. There is just a vibrancy. A pure, unadulterated vibrancy that lingers through the streets he walked and within the businesses he helped start. A vibrancy that hopes Long Beach will continue to be a haven for techies and hipsters, artists and business people, innovators and builders, thinkers and doers.
“Work for yourself, not by yourself.”
A mantra that is easy to enjoy philosophically though much harder to live by—but one that Markus proved not entirely impossible to live by and for. But maybe we’re over-analyzing, as we tend to do, and we should take Markus’s example: ask someone to sit down for some food because, “Guess what? I have an idea.”