News & Updates

I Heard A Rumor

The purpose of Portland Emergency Eviction Response is to make forced eviction a phenomenon of history, whether we’re talking about mortgage foreclosures, evictions of renters, or “sweeps” of houseless communities.  We want to build a network that can effectively challenge these practices.

Organizing this network, and working with people facing eviction who want to resist eviction, is not supposed to be about the people who formed the network, but rather about the work of the network itself — and its ability to continue as such, ultimately without the participation of its founding members, like any good network will do.  And, really, more importantly, organizing this network is about winning the struggle for universal housing.

However, as with any group involving actual people, who are intentionally not functioning anonymously, in the case of the Minister of Staple Guns, anyway, people in PEER are real people with real histories.  Recently, questions have arisen about who this guy is, and why so many rumors abound about him.  So I thought I’d try to respond to some of the more common rumors, and some of the ones that I believe might be common, at least in certain circles (particularly among anarchist youth on the internet), and I thought I’d do that in the form of a Q&A.  I particularly thought I’d do this because to try to follow all this stuff is mind-numbingly tedious and probably confusing, even if you’re an old personal friend or a big fan of my music or writing.  And you should not need to be particularly familiar with me as an individual or as an artist, to understand or be part of PEER, or eviction defense in Portland or anywhere else.  So I’m going to try to be brief!

Who are you?

My name is David Rovics.  I grew up in Connecticut, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places (Boston, San Francisco, Seattle), since 2007 in Portland, Oregon.  I was raised by progressives in a largely Republican suburb.  My radicalization process began with opposition to nuclear holocaust under Reagan’s presidency when I was 12.  I went through a Maoist phase.  By my late twenties I was a touring singer/songwriter, mainly playing for activist groups, mainly singing about what they’re doing.  In that capacity I’ve been involved with social movements around the world, since the late 1990’s.  I’ve never even remotely come close to having a hit or anything like that, but my songs are streamed millions of times a year, mostly by radical youth in countries where English fluency is the norm.  When the pandemic hit and I was unable to tour anymore, I started more fully pursuing my longstanding interests in both journalism and organizing around rent control and eviction abolition, since I have long been a class warrior above all else, and my rent has gone up by 240% since I moved to Portland.

Do you think all these rumors about you are because of Cointelpro and other nefarious activities like that?

Some of them might be, but others are definitely originating from real people, for real, and sometimes even very legitimate, reasons.  I’m way not perfect.  But what happens to the rumors after one starts spreading is often another matter.  It’s in the many generations of what we used to call the “telephone tree effect” that things may get extremely distorted.  Add to that social media algorithms, trauma of all sorts, triggers of all sorts, and everything gets so much messier.

Are you a narcissist?  Why do you organize under your own name, instead of using a pseudonym?

I really do appreciate the many advantages of anonymity.  It can be very helpful for many reasons.  It can help to emphasize the cause, rather than the individuals who may be opportunistically trying to lead the fight, for one reason or another.  It can help prevent the rise of a leader that may become corrupt in one way or another.  It can help emphasize the importance of horizontal organizing, and how well it can work.  It can help you not have your house attacked by Nazis after they find your address.  All of this is very true.  On the other hand, being public for a public figure is kind of inevitable.  So I figure rather than going under a pseudonym and waiting to be recognized by any number of people who tend to recognize me in a crowd at a protest anyway (even when wearing a mask), I’ll just be public.  Also, my hope was that as a known quantity, to some extent, this might actually help people trust the intent of the network I’m involved with forming.  I’m not sure about that yet.

Are you a Stalinist?  I heard you wrote a song praising Fidel Castro.

I’m very opposed to authoritarian regimes, and I have never written a nice song about Stalin or Pol Pot.  I politically align with tendencies generally characterized by terms like “libertarian socialist” or “anarchist socialist” or “anarchist,” depending on who you ask, or what time period we’re talking about.  However, I don’t think Cuba since 1959 bears much resemblance to the USSR under Stalin.  There is a lot of nuance in the world, and not a lot of perfection.  It’s important, I think, to see the differences between, say, Stalin and Castro.  Equally, it’s important to see the differences between European-style capitalism and US capitalism, and to understand that one is in fact way better than the other, even if both leave a lot of room for improvement.

Are you a fascist?  I heard you interviewed one.

I wrote an Open Letter to Patriot Front and the Proud Boys in Counterpunch, and a college professor friend asked me if any members of the far right had given me any feedback on the essay.  I said no, but it occurred to me that I had been in touch with someone who represented himself as a former fascist.  He thought my open letter was very good, and the email he wrote me made me want to interview him about how he became a fascist and how he realized the error of his ways.  This was just in the wake of the Capitol siege on January 6th, and I thought (and think) it’s important to understand what motivates people who would do that sort of thing.  I should have done more research, and should have reacted much less defensively to all the people on Twitter and elsewhere who attacked me for posting this interview.  After too long, I figured out I had fucked up in several different ways, and I took down the interview and wrote a mea culpa which I published in Counterpunch, if you’re interested in the details.  But I’m definitely not a fascist, and never was one.

Do you support terrorism?  You’ve written songs that seem to endorse the IRA, the PFLP, the YPG and other groups like that.

I have never physically struck another person in anger in any form since I was 16 years old.  But in principle, I certainly understand that under various circumstances, people facing impossible situations decide they must resort to violence, such as killing the soldiers who are killing them when they protest nonviolently.  I also think it’s important to understand different struggles, whether or not you would ever personally participate in such a struggle, and whether or not you’re involved with supporting the struggle beyond trying to understand it, and humanize its participants.  If humanizing terrorists makes me a terrorist sympathizer, then I am most definitely that.

Are you really an anarchist, though?  You wrote a piece in 2010 criticizing diversity of tactics.

It’s true that I have had a lot of criticism of what we have come to call diversity of tactics.  I still do, though I wish I hadn’t written that piece in 2010, because it ended up being shared mostly by liberals who didn’t like the black bloc in the first place.  I was more coming from a place of being part of the movement, but critical of using the tactic of trashing property and burning dumpsters at any given opportunity.  I was not saying in that piece, or at any other time, that militant forms of resistance of all kinds are somehow not necessary.  I was saying that tactics should be used strategically.

Are you an anti-Semite?

Most definitely not.  I am personally of Jewish lineage, and I’m not a self-loathing Jew either.  I am very critical of the state that represents itself as the Jewish state, the state of Israel, and its policies towards the Palestinians, which are more vicious than apartheid South Africa’s treatment of Black South Africans, in the judgment of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many others.  Particularly in the US, Germany, and Israel, being very vocally opposed to Israeli policies and supportive of the Palestinian-led global movement to boycott Israel can earn you enemies.  I not only never get gigs in the folk music circuit anywhere in the US, and never get any play on commercial or “public” radio, but I am frequently attacked by pro-Israel liberals, and by people associated with the anarchist youth scene in Germany, and occasionally in the US as well, who identify with a political tendency that has a dangerous amount of sway on the German left, called the Anti-Deutsche.  I have written a couple of essays about this political tendency in Counterpunch if you’re interested in more details.

Are you a holocaust denier?

There have been many holocausts.  Some people freak out when you say that, but I guess they never heard of Armenia or Oklahoma.  Anyway, we’re talking about the Nazi Holocaust here when people make this allegation.  And I’m certainly not a denier of any of those holocausts.  In the Nazi Holocaust, my grandmother and her mother, who was still alive back then, lost touch with all of their relatives in Europe.  All of them.  All killed.  So yeah, it happened, for fuck’s sake.  However, over time there have been many questions raised about the Nazi Holocaust as well as about the holocaust in Cambodia, in terms of exactly how many people were killed.  These are legitimate areas of inquiry, but if you even talk to someone who is interested in this field of research, you will be called a holocaust denier.  I know!

Are you a womanizer?

I wrote a song called “I’m A Better Anarchist Than You,” and folks who are digging up dirt on me often come across Tom Frampton’s satirical version of the song, “I’m A Better Folksinger Than You,” which is a song that documents my apparent habits of buying new clothes, drinking corporate coffee, and going to bed with groupies.  I don’t know what Tom knew of my actual life at the time.  While it is absolutely true about the buying new clothes and drinking corporate coffee, and I won’t bother explaining that, the part about going to bed with groupies is important, to me.  While Tom’s song presents an over-simplified, one-dimensional view (which is no fault of the song, it’s just a song, they’re often like that, by nature), in retrospect, it is absolutely true that my polyamorous beliefs and practices were very convenient for me, and often very hurtful for others.  I was not careful enough, in so many ways, and I have many regrets.

Are you a transphobe?

Understanding the realities for trans people took me too long.  As late as 2013, I did not fully grasp the situation, and when some people were miffed that I had not done something about a certain song I had recorded that was about someone who no longer identified with their old name or gender, I reacted defensively, as I have done on way too many occasions, when criticized online by people I’ve never met.  In the course of what happened next, which included a lot of communication and a threat to picket a concert in Ireland, with the help of people both younger and wiser than I, I figured a lot of things out.  I recorded “Song for Chelsea Manning,” but have found trying to erase the previous version from the internet to be impossible.  And I deeply understand why re-recording the song was an important thing to do, and I hope everyone else does, too.

Anything else?

I can probably think of other rumors that might be in the mill, but they’d probably be more in the realm of the bizarre or fringe.  For example, many of the more nutty wing of the 9/11 Truth movement don’t like me because they say I’m basically brainwashed if I really believe 19 Arab guys hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed three of them into large buildings, killing thousands of people.  Not only do I really believe that, but I know someone who smoked cigarettes with Mohammed Atta outside the building where he worked, with a whole bunch of Israelis, in Florida.  But yeah, I don’t believe Dick Cheney lined the Twin Towers with explosives.  They were planes, and that’s what made the buildings collapse, including Building 7.  Even though I did write a song a long time ago that questioned all of that.  But I digress.  If there’s anything else you hear about me, I’d love to address any potential concerns anyone may have about anything, and then can we please abolish evictions and stop the sweeps?

The Housing Crisis: One Year After Lockdown

One housing activist’s assessment of where we are now with the ever-worsening housing crisis in the USA, and some lessons from 2020 on how we might begin to reverse course, with well-organized eviction defense campaigns as a primary tactic. You can also find this in podcast form if you look for This Week with David Rovics wherever you get your podcasts,  under the Latest News tab at, and published on Counterpunch.


All the folks moving to Portland from California or New York and talking about how great the real estate prices are here may not know it (note: I was once one of them), but this city is the most rent-burdened city in the United States, and it exists within a country that, like this city, is undergoing multiple long-term crises, one of which is a housing crisis. The housing crisis, like so many other crises, got much worse one year ago this week, when the country, and much of the rest of the world, shut down.

Although this is a city that lost half of its Black population to the rise in the cost of housing between the years of 2000 and 2010 alone, according to census data, one year ago this week, if we talked about the housing crisis as one neck-deep in institutional racism, we would often be met by blank stares. One year on, the fact that there is racial discrimination in the real estate and rental markets, and the fact that housing justice is also a question of racial justice is largely accepted as self-evident in mainstream circles.

Less examined are the outrageous levels of profiteering on the backs of pretty much the whole of the society, led by a class of super-rich oligarchs, in their quest for ever more profits, as they systematically engineer a constant rise in the cost of buying or renting housing, across the country, as real wages continue to stagnate, nowhere near rising along with the cost of housing, except among corporate executives, investors, and a select strata of six-figure workers. But this entire phenomenon of sucking the wealth of society constantly upwards, towards the corporate landed gentry, is finally receiving at least a bit more widespread scrutiny than it has received in a very long time — if not nearly enough of it.

To be clear, it’s easy to see that we are in the midst of an epic struggle. Several major genies have come out of their bottles, and they’re not going to just go away now. How all of this unfolds is unknown, because “unknown” is the nature of the future. But it’s been a year since the lockdown, and a long three months since I’ve written anything on the class war that we call the housing crisis (not that I wasn’t thinking about it much of that time, and reposting articles about related news on anti-social media).

Of course, a major development since I wrote about what was at the time the most recent iteration of eviction moratorium and renter assistance legislation in the state of Oregon, in late December, is the Biden administration managed to take office, and even managed to squeak in with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. As I write, the latest round of stimulus checks are arriving in bank accounts across the country, unemployment assistance for gig workers like me has been extended until early September, and a new child tax credit is apparently going to lift tens of millions of families in this country out of poverty over the next year, including mine, with an unprecedented, almost two trillion dollar government spending package. (Unprecedented, but only equal to what we normally spend on the military during a two-year period.)

What we have seen up til now, prior to the lockdown, and more so since the lockdown, is a dramatic rise in the number of people living in tents on the sidewalk or in broken-down cars on the street, a dramatic rise in young adults moving back in with their parents, and a rise in evictions. The rise in evictions has been hugely mitigated by local, state, and federal eviction bans that have come and gone over the past year, depending on the locality. Although caused in particular by a combination of an already burdensome cost of housing combined with low wages, when those wages were in so many cases lost entirely, eviction bans and government aid have so far prevented the “eviction tsunami” that the business press has been concerned about. Concerned, of course, for reasons of capitalism’s self-preservation in the face of this unacceptably high degree of societal chaos, if not out of empathy for the millions of people who face the horrors of eviction in a typical, non-pandemic year in this country, who are normally ignored by the corporate media.

Now, we don’t have a $15-an-hour minimum wage, but significant amounts of aid is coming in, which will significantly affect the lives of many people. First of all, this needs to be acknowledged. Government response to the pandemic was largely a disaster, economic aid for suffering people has been too limited and badly apportioned, but now there’s a lot more of it, and it’s going to make a difference.

If we take a moment to reflect on the situation and consider the future for the still-very-much-ongoing housing crisis in the US, among other crises, we can wonder whether this new stimulus package would have passed if Biden and Harris had not won the election, and we can wonder whether it would have been as significant as it is if not for a year dominated by constant domestic unrest. And we can ask what forms of unrest might have been more influential than others, in inspiring such generosity from that gang of several hundred millionaires (with a nice little squad of righteous progressives) that we call the US Congress.

Regardless of how we got here or why this happened — by which I mean how this society got into such a stratified mess, and how the government got inspired to spend so much money to try to get us part of the way out of it — what we can be sure of, according to copious precedent, is that any solution to the housing crisis that just involves paying the back rent is no solution at all. Even canceling all rent and postponing all mortgages for everyone during the whole of 2020, none of which is remotely on the Congressional agenda, wouldn’t solve any long-term problems.

This is because the housing crisis predates the Covid crisis, so getting us back to where we were in 2019 would mean returning us to the housing crisis we were in already. But were the rental and other housing assistance to be sufficient to meet the need that’s out there — and as far as I understand, even with this new spending package, it isn’t — then what the corporate landlords and their management companies would do is raise all the rents. Those who have studied history are aware that one of the biggest friends of the labor unions during the early years of the industrial revolution in New York City were the landlords who owned the buildings the workers lived in. Why? If they were paid better, the landlords could charge more rent.

Meaning, of course, that most of the extra tax money raised, most of the new government debt incurred, even if it is ostensibly being spent in the name of keeping the housing-insecure housed, among other things, is ultimately just going to make the rich richer. And if there’s more aid, that’s just more money to be funneled upwards.

So what’s the solution, if not aid? Control over costs. Only this can prevent the landlords from just charging more, as we earn more, or get more government aid, or institute a universal basic income, or whatever other such programs come along. A lack of good regulation of the housing market will inevitably sabotage all such efforts.

Of course, regulating the landlords means regulating the very corporate entities that spend the money that gets most of the politicians from both parties elected in the first place, in this auction that we call democracy, so changing policies around regulating what landlords can charge — or even questioning whether and to what degree anyone should be allowed to practice this particular form of business enterprise, of running little monopolies that “provide housing” for people who would otherwise have none – is inevitably going to be extremely controversial among the kleptocracy. So getting this kind of regulation passed requires lots of resistance. Even more resistance than was required to get the $1.9 trillion bailout passed.

And what kind of resistance is that of which I speak? People will, have, and do argue about points like this endlessly. Did all the burning buildings in cities across the country inspire politicians to spend more to alleviate poverty and address institutional racism and other endemic problems, or would the politicians be even more inspired towards egalitarianism if all the protests had been permitted marches and candle-lit vigils? Unknown.

But if we are assessing the housing struggle and wondering where to go from here, I think there are some important observations to be made about the recent past, that speak to where we might focus efforts in the future.

There are many tenants unions and other networks cropping up all over the country that are focusing on a wide variety of issues of concern to renters, but if we were to boil their efforts down to two major demands, they would be the demand for actually affordable housing in the form of real, effective rent control legislation, and the demand for an end to the practice of forced eviction, and any threats to that effect. In other rich countries housing is a guaranteed right, rent control is widespread and practiced effectively, much housing is cooperative or government-owned, and well-maintained, and forced evictions are extremely rare.

Here in Portland, the scene around the Red House on Mississippi Avenue has, overall, been a great example of the potential for eviction defense tactics to change the whole equation when it comes to whether or how often the authorities, real estate investors, landlords, etc., will consider carrying out forced evictions or foreclosures. There is clear reason to believe the local authorities are far less enthusiastic about carrying out forced evictions since their failed effort to evict the residents there in north Portland, in the latter days of 2020.

While there are many cliquish aspects to the elements of the autonomous scene that tend to be attracted to the history and practice of eviction defense — and that’s true in the US and in other countries as well — I think we can say unequivocally that when several dozen people (with the potential of quickly becoming a couple hundred people) are committed enough to risk arrest and police violence, among other things, by re-occupying a house after an eviction was carried out, and then by occupying streets in the neighborhood around the house, setting up fencing and tire spikes to prevent vehicular assaults as people did around the Red House, then we will affect policy moving forward.

Aside from the importance of inclusiveness, and the effectiveness of the various forms of civil disobedience practiced in the course of the Red House eviction resistance, there are other things to note about how events unfolded here in Portland over the course of the past year that might help us think about the next moves.

There are clearly many reasons for Portland being one of the flashpoints of resistance over the past year in the US, and also one of those places where resistance around race and housing most naturally intertwined. I wouldn’t want to under-emphasize the importance of factors like the cost of rent relative to the average wage here (what they call “rent burden”), which, as I mentioned earlier, is the nation’s highest, or the long history of housing discrimination against people of color here. But I think an important psychological element on this front is that so many of the people here, activists or not, moved here after being priced out of New York City, Seattle, or California, and this experience colors their perspective on everything. Many of them — us — feel like we have nowhere else to go, in many ways. Cornered.

Another factor that seems worth noting is the way the local movement organized itself into different blocs responsible for different activities related to maintaining a social movement, from feeding people to caring for their wounds to fixing their cars to providing legal support to providing sound at protests. This phenomenon was not limited to Portland, of course, but was more of an organized thing in some places than in others.

Especially since the January 6th Capitol siege, people, organizations and networks across the political spectrum have been losing their social media accounts. I personally know many people around the world who are solid members of the left, not the sort to be making death threats or spreading outrageous conspiracies, who have lost their Facebook or Twitter accounts in the past few months. Long before all this deplatforming was a big news item in early 2021, the movement in Portland was actively pivoting to stop relying so much on the corporate platforms. Although Twitter is still a very useful place to stay abreast of happenings on the street here if you follow the right accounts of grassroots activists and journalists, activists in Portland increasingly do their communicating in private Signal groups and other more protected spaces, less vulnerable to disappearing at the whim of a Silicon Valley billionaire.

One of these blocs, essentially, has been an initiative I’ve been very involved with called PEER — Portland Emergency Eviction Response. There are several other groups, or committees within larger organizations, involved with doing very much the same sort of thing, such as the eviction defense committee within Portland Tenants United, which itself is part of a broader network of tenants unions that has recently formed, the Autonomous Tenants Union.

On PEER’s website folks can sign up to receive text alerts about evictions that may be happening. PTU’s eviction defense group has a similar setup. PEER’s web and text operation is very intentionally set up independently of any major corporate platforms. Anyone who can receive a text message can sign up, anonymously. As things continue to develop with Big Tech and Big Data, along with the suspensions of so many social media accounts, it becomes more and more clear how important it is for essential communication, and lots else, to be, as much as possible, independent of corporate platforms, and at least slightly less subject to mass surveillance.

As these networks here have been growing, we have made a very conscious effort to plaster the town with stickers. Posters, too, but especially stickers. They last much longer — sometimes months, in prominent places around town. We have focused our stickering campaigns on neighborhoods and parks where protests happen often, as well as near Class C apartment complexes, which can be found all over Portland, in some parts more than others.

The focus on physical media is because we don’t want to just communicate online, and we feel that the physical presence of such messages around town has a different sort of impact than a post on the web. It’s also not subject to Facebook’s insidious algorithms or censorship efforts. The slightly illegal nature of spreading the word by putting stickers on public property, such as on the otherwise blank, shiny steel backs of the many signs poking out of the sidewalks, seems to have a somewhat comforting effect on many people who may be wondering who these eviction defense people are. Whoever they are, they like to deface public property, so maybe they’re OK. The medium communicates as much as the message does.

As the person responsible for answering PEER’s email, I have developed the distinct impression that there are a few folks around town who identify with this nascent eviction defense squad much the same way people who feed the hungry in public parks without a permit identify as Food Not Bombs. In either case, what some people are identifying with is simply a tactic, more than anything else. In the case of Food Not Bombs, you needn’t have met anyone else engaged in the practice, necessarily — if you’re feeding people for free in a public place and risking arrest by doing so, that’s more or less the whole shtick.

And if you believe in eviction abolition, and risking arrest by trespassing or perhaps engaging in other forms of civil disobedience in order to keep people housed, rather than pitched onto the sidewalk, then you’re a PEER of mine and others. It’s just the basic concept of solidarity, coordinated by text mob, rather than the old tin horns of the Rent Strike Wars in the 1840’s, or the telephone trees in the age of the land line.

Or to put this whole update into one sentence:

However big or well-targeted the bailout may be, in all likelihood, lasting change won’t happen until we take on the corporate investor landlord class, demonstrate how much support this cause has, stop business as usual, and force the politicians to pass the kind of legislation that will control the rent, now — not in some capitalist’s imagined future.