To call last night’s “Bring PBR Home” town hall meeting at Best Place a stunning waste of time would be an insult not only to legitimate wastes of time—staring at a wall, checking your phone while taking a dump—but to the concept of time itself. In the hour or so I was able to stomach the world’s most glorified college-activist-“Let’s take down the system, maaaan!”-coffee-shop meeting, time slipped away. Minutes passed like hours. The Earth stood still. I walked out. I wasn’t alone.
Normally, a mildly popular social media “campaign” dedicated to purchasing a $1 billion company would be unworthy of a review, on par with that “Bring the 2024 Olympics to Milwaukee” thing from a few years ago. But “Bring PBR Home” is different. The campaign has received a shit-ton of glowing press since bubbling to the surface last month, turning it into Milwaukee’s latest feel-good story. Local media has dutifully given it gallons of virtual ink. National media has run with it. International media has given it the time of day. But in all that press, no one has asked one simple, Letterman-esque question: Is this anything?
The answer: No, this is not anything. Some background: Last month, a small group of Milwaukeeans started a “Milwaukee Should Own Pabst Blue Ribbon” Facebook page after the owner of Pabst, food industry magnate C. Dean Metropoulos, announced that his company was up for sale. The campaign’s goal? To somehow purchase the $500 million to $1 billion brand and turn it into a community-owned co-op by selling virtual “stocks,” a la the Green Bay Packers. Or maybe by doing a really big Kickstarter and having the city run the company. Or maybe by sending petitions to Metropoulos and Milwaukee officials. Or maybe by getting a bunch of likes on Facebook and using the #BringPBRHome hashtag a lot. Or something.
Logistics aside, bringing Pabst back to Milwaukee after a nearly 20-year absence was a particularly bizarre idea. (Read all about it here!) Still, that didn’t stop the media from showering the campaign with the kind of attention legitimate organizations and movements would kill for. The AP picked up the story. USA Today picked up the story. The Guardian picked up the story. Local TV news showed up with cameras. OnMilwaukee.com did its thing. To give you some idea of the emptiness and pointlessness of last night’s meeting, a beaming recap of all this press was one of the evening’s highlights, along with a thrilling history of the Facebook page itself.
Before the meeting even began, “Bring PBR Home” attempted to shield itself from any sane-minded criticism by passing out a fact sheet—a fact sheet that may as well have been titled “Please Lower Your Expectations” A few excerpts:
“We do not have set plans on how any proposed community ownership should happen or evolve. Rather we seek to engage interested community stakeholders in a series of discussions examining three basic questions: Who owns? Who operates? Who benefits?”
“We are well aware the odds of actually bringing Pabst home are not ones to bet on. While this has been an organizing principle around which to center this conversation, it is not the only goal, nor is it the only marker of success.”
“We have repeatedly attempted to contact Pabst Brewing Company and would love to form such a partnership with leaders there. Unfortunately, they have not returned our attempts at communication.”
From there, the two-dozen people in attendance were treated to a Wikipedia history of Pabst in Milwaukee; a briefing on “The Story Of Capital Flight;” a rundown of all that press; a skit—a skit!—about the organizers’ “wacky” meeting with Mayor Barrett (don’t ask); and, well, that’s about it. All throughout, it was stressed that “Bring PBR Home” was not, in fact, an organized movement with money, power, or anything resembling a plan behind it, but simply a group of concerned Milwaukeeans interested in starting a conversation about “new ideas of ownership,” profit sharing, wealth distribution, community power, and other hot topics currently being discussed in college dorm rooms across America.
Again, none of this would be worthy of contempt if it hadn’t been sold as a real thing. (Though the organizers repeatedly denied doing this, their eagerness to provide interviews to any and all media outlets hasn’t helped.) But people in attendance—some of them former Pabst employees—were clearly looking for something resembling a plan, something resembling, well, something. Instead, they were treated to a half-assed presentation and an “open forum” better suited to a “Beer and Socialism” night at your neighborhood bar. A handful of people joined me in walking out, pissed off at what they saw as a bait-and-switch.
In the end, the organizers of “Bring PBR Home” shouldn’t be blamed. They clearly love their community and want to see it succeed. Would bringing Pabst back to Milwaukee be a form of poetic justice? Sure. Would it be wonderful to create a community-owned business that brings jobs and wealth back to the city? Of course it would. Are either of these things going to happen? No. So shame on local, national, and international media for mindlessly promoting such substance-free tripe as “Bring PBR Home.” Former Pabst employees deserve better. Milwaukee deserves better.