Ann Arbor — October 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Arbor Brewing Co. ignores anti-choice flak to host successful Planned Parenthood fundraiser


Last night Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan held a beer-tasting fundraiser at Ann Arbor’s Arbor Brewing Company. I posted a few photos from the event HERE and there are many more below from my wife, Anne C. Savage.

I had a chance to talk with Rene Greff, co-owner with her husband Matt, of Arbor Brewing Co. and the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti. This event was their 14th annual fundraiser for Planned Parenthood and, as you might imagine, they have faced stiff pushback from anti-choice protesters over the years and this year was no exception. Thankfully there were no protesters at the event but there was plenty of hostility directed at them prior to it.

As you will see from the interview, the Greffs have gotten pushback from liberals as well. As Rene says, “some progressives [are] questioning whether or not ABC has sufficient progressive bona fides to warrant the honor of hosting this controversial event.” A quick comment on that. Although many of us were grumpy about their support of Rick Snyder for governor, a fellow Ann Arbor businessman with whom they had a long friendship, it is completely ridiculous and self-defeating for progressives to be castigating Rene and Matt now. The two of them are some of the most active supporters of progressive causes and Democrats in Ann Arbor and to continue to criticize them for one stance they took in light of their vast support of Democrats and progressive causes otherwise is a big mistake. You’d be hard put to find two business people in Ann Arbor that are as supportive of progressives and their project than Matt and Rene Greff. We can not afford to lose allies like them.

Matt and Rene Greff with Congressman John Dingell

Eclectablog: Thanks for taking some time for an interview, Rene. This is the 14th annual fundraiser you have done for Planned Parenthood. How did you first get involved with Planned Parenthood and how did the Ann Arbor Beer Tasting fundraiser come about?

Rene Greff: Part of the core mission of the Arbor Brewing Company is to support the communities that sustain us. One of the ways we accomplish this mission is to partner with local non-profits. Toward that goal, we have committed to hosting a beer tasting fundraiser with a local non-profit partner up to 12 times a year (one per month). In addition to providing the space and party planning assistance for free, we also donate back 50% of all sales from the event – essentially we just cover our costs. Planned Parenthood was one of our first fundraising partners. Like most of our non-profit partners, we were approached by Planned Parenthood but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember if they were looking for an event venue or just looking for a donation but in either event, it has grown into a very successful partnership.

Eclectablog: Why do you support Planned Parenthood? Why is this an organization you have chosen to work with?

Rene Greff: Professionally, it is our mission to partner with non-profits that serve our community and we are especially predisposed to support environmental organizations and organizations that provide essential services and resources to disadvantaged, at-risk and, under-served members of our community. Personally, we support the mission of Planned Parenthood which states that it is “the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence. We believe that respect and value for diversity in all aspects of our organization are essential to our well-being. We believe that reproductive self-determination must be voluntary and preserve the individual’s right to privacy. We further believe that such self-determination will contribute to an enhancement of the quality of life and strong family relationships.” In addition to ensuring access to legal medical procedures like abortion, Planned Parenthood provides essential medical services like cancer screening, STD and sex education, basic gynecological exams, and access to birth control to millions of Americans who would otherwise not have access to these vital services.

Eclectablog: Have you ever faced any negative feedback because of your involvement with Planned Parenthood from customers, employees or suppliers?

Rene Greff: Our staff is overwhelmingly supportive of this event and our partnership with Planned Parenthood. They are exactly the population that relies on the services of Planned Parenthood. And beyond that, people that come to work for ABC tend to be politically engaged, outspoken progressives. For 95% of our staff, our corporate commitment to progressive causes in the community is one of the main reasons they applied in the first place. The vast majority of regular customers we hear from are supportive of this event. Unfortunately, among the hundreds of emails we get from people saying they’re never coming back, we have no way of knowing how many of them have ever been the breweries or would ever come. But I will admit that we definitely lose a few repeat customers every time we host this event. I have never gotten any feedback from suppliers.

Eclectablog: Have your Beer Tasting fundraisers ever drawn protesters? If so, what were they like and how did you deal with them?

Rene Greff: Always. We have seen everything: personal hate mail taped to the inside of the screen door at our house, emails sent via our website or to our personal email addresses, phone calls at both pubs, and picketers with bloody fetus signs harassing customers entering the breweries. The messages range from religious rants, to threats to us personally or to our businesses, to an occasional respectful heartfelt plea from people who really believe that choice harms women. We mostly ignore them. In the past I received all of the communication but this year my general manager is receiving all of the emails that come from the website and I finally just told her to stop reading them. Most are just nasty and ignorant and want to make sure we know that we’re going to hell. As for the picketers, we just make sure they are not breaking the law by physically blocking or intimidating our customers and we make sure we have someone on the sidewalk correcting misrepresentations.

Eclectablog: Can we look forward to a 15th Annual Planned Parenthood Beer Tasting fundraiser next year?!

Rene Greff: To be quite honest, we are going to wait until after the event and try to assess where we are and how we want to proceed in the future. Like most downtown businesses, we are struggling in this new economy to make ends meet and along with our obligation to the community, we also have an obligation to protect the best interests of the business. The negative response this year has been pretty overwhelming – both from anti-abortionists and sadly even from some progressives questioning whether or not ABC has sufficient progressive bona fides to warrant the honor of hosting this controversial event. The weeks leading up to this year’s event have been especially emotionally draining to us and our staff. After the event is over, we plan to get feedback from Planned Parenthood and from our staff and decide if we’re really making enough of an impact to justify all of the blowback.

Take a moment to let Matt and Rene know that you support them and their emphatic support of Planned Parenthood so that there will be a 15th annual beer-tasting fundraiser next year. You can contact them HERE.

All photos below by Anne C. Savage. For larger versions of the photos, visit her website. Please do not use without permission. Totally not kidding: ask first. Thanks.

The event last night was very well attended with close to 100 people at one point. Event organizer and Director of Political Field Operations at Planned Parenthood, John Keserich, was eloquent during his part of the program.

John Keserich talks about Planned Parenthood of Michigan

Lori Lamerand, president of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan spoke as well.

Lori Lamerand

Lori Lamerand

Executive Director Sarah Scranton had the best quote of the night: “Since we can’t change the minds of Republican legislators in Lansing, we need to change the faces!”

Sarah Scranton, standing left with state Senator Rebekah Warren

State Senator Rebekah Warren was on hand and was passionate in her support of Planned Parenthood, balancing on high-heels to talk to the crowd.

State Senator Rebekah Warren

State Senator Rebekah Warren

State Representative Jeff Irwin was also eloquent when he spoke. “Some people tell me, ‘Oh, it must be so hard to be a progressive in the state legislature right now.’ But it’s not. When you’re supporting social justice and the rights of women to have control over their reproductive choices, it’s easy.” He exhorted the crowd to get involved in the 2012 elections to turn the legislature back to Democratic so that we can once again have a voice in our state’s future.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin

State Rep. Jeff Irwin

To make a contribution to Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, visit their contribution page HERE. Tell ’em Eclectablog sent ya ;^)