This article was originally published on SarasotaUnderground.com
Yesterday I read this article by Shelby Webb on the UnRavel website, and at first glance I was like “Go Shelby!”
But the more I thought about her article and the argument she presented, the more I started to realize that she got it all wrong.
You see the problem with Sarasota is not the city or county commission. The problem is not the lack of affordable housing, a lack of nightlife, or even the old people who she references more than once in her article.
The real problem is us.
The problem is that our generation doesn’t understand that we need to fight for what we want, so we become easy to ignore.
Talk to any Millennial downtown Sarasota on a Friday or Saturday night, and they’’ll probably tell you how upset they are about the lack of places to hang out and party. But ask the same person if they showed up to vote in the last city election and you’ll likely get a blank stare.
And that seems to be a trend among Millennials, not only in Sarasota, but across the nation.
As an example, in the 2015 Sarasota city elections, only 84 people under the age of 30 showed up to vote. That’s less than 3% of the registered voters in that age group, which means that as a percentage of their registered voter base, more people over the age of 90 showed up to vote than those under the age of 30.
So of course the city ignores us.
Because we would rather bitch about the things we want as opposed to actually going out and making them happen. The fact of the matter is that the powers at be know that we have rendered ourselves politically impotent, so there is no incentive for them to listen.
And if you ask me, Shelby’s response is exactly why “old people” (in Sarasota and across the world) worry about us as Millennials. Because most of the time, when the going get tough, we simply run away. Because we’ve become soft and entitled and are therefore incapable of getting what we want.
The real reason Sarasota is stagnating is precisely because people like Shelby are leaving the area instead of plugging into the networks that might allow us to drive real change in this town.
Because instead of using her voice to encourage a demographic who has no clear leadership in the community, she unwittingly used it to validate the idea that nothing is happening here in Sarasota. Instead she left the reader thinking that nothing has changed over the years, and that Sarasota will always be a stale retirement town. But that is not the case.
Her article also ignored the fact that so many of us are working together to shape this city into something more.
She ignored the Manatee Millennial Movement which hosted a conference earlier this year to help Millennials plug into local governments and their decision making process.
She ignored the Sarasota Young Professionals, who two days ago held a sold out, half day conference which was specifically designed to help young professionals develop professionally and personally, while showing them how to plug into their local community.
She left out the fact that there is more happening in Sarasota now than ever before, and while I agree that there is much left to do, I also think that there has been no better time to be in this town as a young professional than right now.
I agree with many of the problems Shelby points out about Sarasota in her article, especially the fact that the city and county commission could use some fresh blood. I also agree that we could use a few more dining and entertainment options that cater to a younger demographic, along with some more affordable places to live, but who is going to advocate for those things if we all keep moving away?
I am sure Houston is a great city, and hopefully Shelby finds her stride in her new hometown, but to compare Houston to Sarasota is a little disingenuous.
Sarasota is not, and will never be, a big city. It’s a quirky, creative beach town, that more closely resembles a prepubescent teenager trying to decide who it wants to be when it grows up.
It is in the next 5 years that the future of this city will forever be locked in and we need as many people as possible pulling in a new direction if we ever want to see any real change in this town.
I for one see the opportunity in being here to influence that growth. Slowly pushing for progress so that one day the area might actually become more attractive to young talent.
And it is for those reasons that we need to come together to claim our seat at the table. Because there is one waiting for us, we just haven’t been sitting in it.
So… What are you gonna do about it? Are you gonna run away with your head tucked between your legs? Or are you going to dig in and help us shape the future of this city we all love?
Because at the end of the day, it’s up to you and me. No one is going to give us the things we want. But if we work together, we can go out and get them for ourselves.
Who’s with me?