News & Updates

To The Barricades: The Red House and the Future of Eviction Defense

You can also read this in Counterpunch.

Portland, Oregon has been in the headlines again over the last few days, and this trend will continue.  The reasons for the headlines will vary depending on who you ask.  If you ask the far right they will say something about Antifa terrorists having violent confrontations with the police because they hate law and order.  The mainstream media’s headlines will also tend to lead with the so-called violent clashes, but then they may inform us that the reasons for the confrontation have to do with folks trying to prevent the eviction of a Black and indigenous family that has lived in the Red House at 4406 North Mississippi for multiple generations.

Either way, the stories you’ll hear will focus on violence.  If you look into it a little, you’ll realize that what the stories are really focusing on are destruction of property — particularly the windows of police cars smashed by well-aimed rocks — and the number of times over the past few months of the eviction defense encampment on the front yard of the Red House that the police have been called because of “disturbances.”  81 times, according to police records, the police emphasize in the report they issued after they entered the house and arrested occupants in a pre-dawn raid on December 8th.

I can only imagine what some of those disturbances might have been caused by.  The house is just at the end of the commercial section of Mississippi Avenue, where what remains of one of Portland’s two historically Black neighborhoods stands, with its uncomfortable mix of wine-sipping gentrifiers living alongside a perennially struggling and shrinking Black working class, along with increasing numbers of people living in tents that line the highway which cuts through the neighborhood — the highway that was originally routed through that neighborhood in order to destroy it, as was done to so many other Black neighborhoods across the US when the highways were being built.

Last time I visited the Red House a few weeks ago, I was only hanging around for a matter of minutes before a man I recognized as a fascist drove slowly past, staring at us from behind his bushy beard, a bizarre new fashion among the fash here in the northwest lately, and in other parts of the world as well.  Indeed, if you follow people on Twitter who are involved with the struggle at the Red House, you will see frequent mentionings of the latest spotting of a known fascist, whether Proud Boy or Patriot Prayer, along with the latest prediction of when the riot cops will next come to create chaos.

While the broken squad car windows, the conflicted neighborhood, the poverty, the homelessness, and the frequently-visiting fascist trolls are all very real, there is so much more going on at the Red House at this moment than these alarming reports would seem to imply.  Primarily, what’s going on there is pure beauty, in the form of the most profound expression of human solidarity you’re likely to see anywhere.

Reading the descriptions from the police and in certain corners of the media, one would expect an unwelcome reception, if you were to visit the neighborhood they’re describing.  In fact, as of last night, the police were officially warning people to avoid the neighborhood altogether, implying that it was, in fact, an anarchist jurisdiction, and therefore a terrifying thing.  Mayor-select Tear Gas Ted Wheeler says Portland shall not have an “autonomous zone” like Seattle did for a while.

Mayor Ted really can’t stand it when the rightwingers in Washington, DC and the corporate landlords who own downtown call him a wimp for not cracking enough heads, even though his cops have been cracking more heads over the past few months than possibly any other police force in the United States.  So his instinct, naturally, is to crack some more heads, in the service of his friends, the corporate overlords, the business lobby, the Owners of the City.  (The real “stakeholders,” as the governor likes to call them — not the ones who hold the stakes that they drive into the ground to keep their tents from blowing away.)

I’m reminded, as I hear of these official pronouncements and fear-mongering, of my visit to the biggest city in the West Bank, Nablus, years ago.  An Israeli soldier took me aside, separating me from my Palestinian friends, to privately make sure I was traveling of my own free will, and had not been kidnapped.  Once determining that I was not a captive, the soldier’s next tack was to try to reason with me.  There are very dangerous people in there, he informed me.  They have bombs, he said.  I politely thanked him for the information, not wanting to create problems for anyone, in our collective efforts to cross this checkpoint.  But I wanted to ask him if he had ever tried leaving the machine gun at home and traveling in civilian clothes.  His reception in Palestinian towns would be very different.

As I entered what has arguably now become a sort of gated community in reverse, I was welcomed everywhere I went, whether with words of greeting or just the sorts of eye contact that says more than enough.  Not to extend the previous analogy with Palestine too much here, but the feeling is a bit similar, in the sense that when you’re an American in Nablus, people there tend to assume you probably are the kind of American who does not support Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.  Going anywhere near the Red House as of yesterday, you are suddenly transformed from a “visitor” to a “participant” as soon as you pass through the makeshift gates, into the liberated space that is now the neighborhood surrounding 4406 North Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon.  Because you know once you pass these checkpoints and enter the anarchist jurisdiction, you are now as much of a potential target for a police attack as anyone else who is willfully disregarding orders to avoid the neighborhood.

From the time people began to maintain a constant presence in front of the house as part of an effort to prevent the forced eviction of the Kinney family within it, until a few days ago, it was the house and its yard that was being protected.  Then, at 5 am on December 8th — the favorite time of day for these sorts of police attacks — the riot cops moved in, arresting a number of people, including a member of the Kinney family.  Much was made in the police report about multiple firearms being seized in the course of these arrests, of course with no context provided — that armed fascists are regularly coming by to threaten people, and that the police make sure never to be present when that happens.  For example.  Or that the ownership of firearms is very commonplace in this country, especially lately, across the political spectrum, and is about as surprising as finding a baseball bat or a guitar.

The raid on the Red House on the morning of December 8th will, I believe, go down as an historic miscalculation on the part of Ted Wheeler’s corporate-friendly Democratic Party administration — with its recently-approved, massive police budget — that runs this city in the service of the landlord-stakeholders.  What they have done with this raid is they have massively escalated the conflict, and I sincerely hope, and suspect, that they will soon regret this move.  What they have done now, I believe, is they have taken two movements that were already intimately related, and fused them.  If it was not already completely obvious, now it’s impossible not to see it, the police have made sure of this — if you are in favor of Black lives, you are also against evicting families onto the streets.  And the converse is true as well.

Since the police raid, what was limited to one house is now a neighborhood-wide conflict.  The neighborhood is already very gentrified, and the displeasure among some of the yuppies around Mississippi Avenue that black-clad youth had set up checkpoints on multiple intersections was occasionally being made clear, but only through the aggressive use of car horns, never by people actually getting out of their cars to engage with anyone on a human level, whether out of fear or embarrassment on the part of the horn-happy wine bar set.

After the raid, the police employed a fencing company to erect a tall fence to surround the Red House with.  They apparently were operating under the premise that a tall fence would take care of the problem.  In actuality, the fence they erected turned out to be very useful, but not for the reasons the authorities apparently believed it would be.  What transpired in the hours after they erected the fence, as is easy to observe directly, is the fence was dismantled and reengaged, deployed as part of some suddenly very solid barricade constructions at every intersection surrounding the Red House.  The barricades were set up in such a way that people who lived in other houses in the neighborhood could still access their houses, and mostly also their parking spaces, but they now had to take a much more circuitous route to get onto a main road.  Each barricade has a little entryway that a human — but not a vehicle — can pass through, once the nice, thoroughly masked young person in black who greets you ascertains that you’re probably not a cop or a fascist.

During my time hanging around the neighborhood there last night, many people were engaged in many forms of industrious activity.  If you haven’t spent much time among autonomously-organized youth — whether current youth or the same crowd that existed when I was young, in the 1980’s in New York City — you might not realize that when you enter such patches of liberated territory, whether it’s a mostly outdoor phenomenon like this, or a building takeover, you are entering a hive of activity, reminiscent of a beehive, with everyone engaged in doing their thing, whether they are responsible for cooking, collecting trash, building barricades, constructing tire spikes, collecting wood for the campfires, collecting rocks, or whatever other useful endeavors.  Last night was full of that beehive vibe, with most people fulfilling one role or another, whether self-appointed, or appointed through an affinity group or larger network involved with specific aspects of organizing the things that need to happen when large numbers of people are being somewhere for a while.  Folks need to eat, sleep, and shit, while also seeking to defend the Red House.

While many people were engaged in meetings or carrying out various tasks, the scouts looking for the next inevitable visit from the riot cops, and others involved with guarding the perimeter always have time to talk.  Now, nothing that I’m about to say should come as a surprise to anyone who has spent much time on the ground at protests in Portland over the past eight months or so, but the crowd last night consisted of a very interracial, multigendered and otherwise very intersectional group of mostly young people.  Mostly wearing black — which, incidentally, is not just a political statement, if it even is one, but is a matter of practicality for a variety of reasons.

Are there, as I’m sure some readers will be quick to point out, armed sentries?  Yes, there are armed sentries.  Very nice, armed sentries.  The kind we need more of, unfortunately.

And what are people talking about in there among the campfires?  I pass by one meeting, noting that most of the participants are people of color.  I recognize the man who is speaking to the group of a dozen or so people.  He spoke at the last rally I sang at, in fact.  As I walk past the discussion, he’s talking about how to be inclusive of people who want to be involved, while still finding effective ways to exclude truly disruptive elements.  I then came upon another couple of folks, who greeted me for the sole reason that I had stopped walking momentarily while in their general area, and we then spontaneously began having a conversation about the history of eviction defense actions across the US in the 1930’s, during the Great Depression.

Back in the 1930’s, all of us radical history buffs hanging around the Red House collectively noted, when the cops came to evict people, they often succeeded, but only temporarily.  After evicting a household, the people would gather together — often in their thousands — to move the family back in, and un-evict them.  That, we all noted, was exactly what was going on at 4406 North Mississippi Avenue.

I believe this struggle, around this particular house, will be won.  I believe it will also set the stage for the much broader struggle to come, in the months after Oregon’s eviction moratorium expires.  But the future is very much unwritten, and there are many more players involved with this deadly game, aside from the barricade-building youth, unfortunately.

So don’t just scroll on to the next article.  Put your phone down, and come meet me at the Red House.

David Rovics is a songwriter, podcaster, and part of Portland Emergency Eviction Response.  Go to to sign up to receive text notifications, so you can be part of this effort.  Another Portland is possible.

The Word for the Month is “Renegotiation”

Each month, in keeping with various regulatory guidelines, those of us who have not been paying our rent in the United States since last spring, whether because we can’t pay or because we believe in solidarity with society, have been writing our landlords a letter explaining why we are once again not producing a rent check for this month. The idea here is that we are stronger together, acting collectively, demanding a society-wide solution to a society-wide problem, rather than the current, very temporary solution of forever extending eviction moratoriums, with no idea what might happen once the moratorium expires. We support the moratorium, we’re glad Oregon has one of the best ones in the country, and we want more. Much more. We want actually affordable housing mandated by law, effective yesterday. For more information you can go to And while you’re there, if you’re from the Portland area, please sign up for text notifications so that you can be part of Portland Emergency Eviction Response. Another Portland is possible.

Open Letter to My Landlord #7

Dear Randall Group/CTL Management,

(Please forward to corporate, as far up the chain as possible.)

First of all, in this household, we’ve long ago stopped responding to your bizarre annual surveys where you ask whether your tenants are content, without ever mentioning the elephant in the living room.  You give us options to rate how content we are, all of which are designed to reflect badly on your employees if we aren’t happy.  The reason we stopped responding to your survey is because it’s meaningless and pointless, but for the record, we think all of your employees are very nice, and you should pay them a living wage, too.

As unlikely as it is that any of the relevant corporate investors or board members of the Randall Group ever see these letters of mine — this is what your CTL Management, Inc. firewall is there for, to absorb that sort of flak, so you can pretend you’re just playing with stocks — I do try to make them interesting and educational, each monthly update on the rent strike a bit different from the last.  As you know, I also write because it is one of the requirements of some of the relevant evictions moratorium legislation that you be notified each month of whether your tenants’ situation has changed since the previous month, with regards to loss of employment due to the pandemic.  It hasn’t.

But there’s so much more to be said, so much has happened in the past month, as with every month in this very dynamic year.  The word of the month in the New York business press, we are told by Marketplace, the NPR show that I know you and I both listen to every weekday day, is “renegotiation.”  They say corporate clients all over the city are renegotiating their rents, and that they have gone down by an average of 30%.  Still completely, criminally outrageously high by any sane standard, still a number representing a constant sucking sound of most of society’s hard-earned money flowing upwards towards the pockets of folks like the Randalls and the Kushners every moment of every day — but less than it was Before Corona.

Let’s take a quick look back at certain relevant dates and numbers for the sake of context, before I proceed further.

March, 2007:  I moved to this building you own with my family, on lovely Francis Street, in southeast Portland.  Rent for a two-bedroom was $500 a month — a standard amount back then across the country, outside of the gentrified zones that I had been forced to leave in prior years, such as New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco.

March, 2019:  after 12 years of continuous tenancy, paying the rent on time every month, raising our children on the same wall-to-wall carpeting that was here prior to our moving in, you raised the rent annually every March, and by March of 2019 the rent was now $1,175 per month — for a significantly deteriorated version of the same moldy apartment we moved into in 2007.

March, 2020:  weeks into an unprecedented nationwide and largely worldwide pandemic lockdown that completely dominated the news and all of our lives, we received the standard-issue, annual every-March rent increase, as if it had been sent by automatic timer, no human intervention possibly involved.

I’ll stop there in my timeline, because after that things get more month-to-month rather than year-to-year.  2020 has been like that, I imagine you’d agree.  (There are at least some things we can probably all agree on.)  But first I need to stew on this point a little more:  you raised the rent during a global pandemic lockdown.

See, this is when I fully, truly realized what I had already known:  that there is no “you.”  You are just a figment of our collective imagination.  You are not human.  You are a faceless corporate entity, backed by corporate investors from around the world — speaking of which, I’d specifically like to single out the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund putting its oil money into the US real estate market, fuck you very much, your investments are just as destructive to the lives of the American working class as your oil is to the Earth, contrary to your slick social democratic propaganda.  Like your Norwegian oil baron and Russian oligarch and New York billionaire investors, you, Randall Group — theoretically based here in Portland, Oregon in an ugly glass building on Barbur Boulevard — have no idea what is going on, “on the ground,” so to speak.  Or should we say, “in the theater of conflict,” or where your renters live.  You know, that 50% of society that rents, and has to listen to people on TV every day telling us how stupid we are that we haven’t taken out a massive loan in order to invest our nonexistent money in the impossibly over-valued real estate market yet to become “home owners.”

Like the bankers enjoying an espresso in the shadow of the towering statue of the iconic social democratic blue collar worker beside the Norwegian parliament, the Randall Group investors who may live in the suburbs of Oslo or in some gated community in Southwest Portland or Beaverton or Moscow or London would seem to be just as blissfully ignorant of reality on the ground among their thousands of Class C apartment complexes, be they in Portland or Kansas City.  While some of the real, human landlords across the country were doing things like canceling rent for a month and lowering the rent for the duration of the pandemic, actively trying to work with their tenants to get through this very difficult time, as they say, “together,” from your management company there has been nothing but silence, aside from the occasional helpful tip about applying for government aid that has run out, or about keeping the pipes from freezing in the winter.

This deafening silence, of course, is the direct result of your lack of humanity.  I mean by the fact that you don’t really exist.  There is no head on this beast, you’re just a corporate creation, designed entirely to suck the money out of society and feed it to the rich.  That’s why you doubled our rent — not because you had to, but because you could.  And it’s all you know how to do, because it’s the governing formula you gave to CTL Management, a corporate entity that exists only to serve out your instructions — raise the rent every year as much as you can get away with legally, don’t fix anything any more than you need to to abide by the minimal legal codes, don’t pay any of your workers any more than you can get away with.  Not only do I know this is how CTL is told to manage your properties, but you actually award the best property managers for doing exactly the sorts of things I’m describing, every year, in downtown Portland, at a gala event which I have unfortunately had the displeasure of witnessing personally.

So, catching us up to the end of November, from late March, when you raised the rent again.  That’s when we stopped paying, along with a lot of other folks, for one reason or another.  How many aren’t paying because they can’t, and how many aren’t paying because, like us, they believe in something called society, is unclear.  But with each passing month, your silence becomes more deafening, as with each passing month, your management company leaves us with a new invoice, indicating how many thousands of dollars in back rent we owe, all of which will come due as soon as the applicable local, state or federal eviction moratoriums expire.

The thing is, with each passing month, shit is happening, you know?  I know you this.  Whoever you are — and I’m envisioning mostly rich white guys in suits, in different locations, but whoever you are, perhaps a slightly more diverse group than that, I don’t know — you read the business press, like I do.  So you know that even those of us who did finally get money for being unemployed — which in my case took seven months of waiting — that money runs out on December 26th.  Congress is gridlocked and can’t pass any further aid packages, and we are facing what Marketplace referred to a few days ago as a “fiscal cliff.”

Here are some statistics just in in the past month, which I have gathered from reliable, mainstream press reports, some of which you can find, if you like, by perusing the Facebook page of Artists for Rent Control, a network you inspired me to start up some years ago:

  • 1 in 15 people in the US currently has an active, contagious, coronavirus infection
  • over a quarter of a million people in the US have now died, overall
  • 1 in every 1,000 Black people in the US has died of the coronavirus
  • in the time before the CDC’s eviction moratorium went into effect, hundreds of thousands of evictions took place in states without their own moratoriums, which have now resulted in at least 10,000 more deaths from Covid-19
  • among professional artists like me — which includes some of your other tenants, and many of your former tenants who you long ago priced out of the city — 65% are fully unemployed, and 95% have lost income

I could go on with the statistics, but we all know how dismal the situation is for people who are not happily invested in the booming stock market.

What we also know, importantly, is that you really don’t give a shit about us.  Now wait, an astute reader might be thinking, how do we know this?  All we get is total silence from the landlord corporation with each passing month.  Ah, but there is something called Multifamily Northwest.  This is your lobbying arm, where you invest a small fraction of your profits from raising our rents every year, to make sure you can keep raising our rents every year.  Multifamily Northwest makes it very clear where you stand — you are against the eviction moratorium.  You are against the Oregon legislature reconvening in December to extend Oregon’s eviction moratorium.  You have the ear of the governor, who constantly refers to you as a “stakeholder,” while she never refers to us renters like that.  The only stakes we hold, it seems, are the kind we can hammer into the ground to keep the tent from blowing away.

Not that you’re against a bailout of the landlord corporations, or the renters, as long as it means their rent money going straight to you.  But until that bailout can be worked out, you’re against any eviction moratoriums — your dying and disease-afflicted renters with their hungry children be damned.

So, once again, with feeling:  the word of the month is “renegotiation.”  We can keep on kicking the can down the road.  Prediction:  because the Oregon legislature is dominated by people much more intelligent than you, despite all of the money you regularly bribe them with (I mean donate to their campaigns) — people who can read the literal writing on the wall, and know that ending the eviction moratorium would cause untold suffering and death, and have a very destabilizing effect on society overall, because this is the situation, Oregon’s eviction moratorium will be extended when the special session meets in December.

But with the Congress in the state it’s in in DC, whether there’s ever going to be another bailout is very much a matter of question.  We can wait and see — with us continuing our nonpayment of rent, and continuing to encourage our neighbors to join us in this endeavor, and with you continuing to send anonymous invoices each month indicating our mounting debts — and see what eventually happens in Congress.  Or you can break your sociopathic silence.  You can communicate with your tenants, and renegotiate the rent.

There are a lot of other things you could do.  But “renegotiate” is the word of the month, Grover.

By the end of December, there’s only one word any of us will be thinking of, unfortunately.  And it’s one that you bear such a huge responsibility for, because the main reason all those expendable, I mean essential, workers keep going to work every day at their multiple full-time jobs is because they have to funnel their earnings upwards, to fill your overflowing coffers some more.  In fact, you and the system you support through your lobbying groups — through your campaign donations, which always go to Republicans, when they have a chance in a given race — you are responsible in such a significant way for the ongoing stratification of wealth in this country, for the widening divide between rich and poor, between Black, Brown, and white, for the fact that so many parents never see their children.  You did this.  With intention, if by means of lobbying entities and management companies, rather than by getting your own corporate, “invisible hands of the market” dirty.

And that word for next month of which I speak:  take a fucking guess.  Still don’t know?  OK, I’ll give it to you:



David Rovics and family

P.S.  The dishwasher is still broken.