Early this year, two mysterious billboards rose above the city.
The boards, at Northeast Killingsworth Street and Interstate 205 and Southeast Division and 106th Avenue, went up Jan. 3 and 12, respectively. Both blare the same terse message: “Stop Having Kids,” in white text on a black background.
The billboards say they are paid for by a little-known organization called Stop Having Kids. That same advocacy group, which got its start in Portland, according to a spokeswoman, put up a third billboard along Interstate 5 near Salem: “A Lot of Humans Wish They Had Never Been Born.”
Oregonians pride themselves on free speech—our state constitution provides broader protections than does the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Animal rights groups, environmental extremists, and white supremacists have long taken advantage of the state’s “say anything” attitude. Even the police buy billboards to get their message out.
But advocating against procreation? That’s a new message for this city.
So we set out to figure out who’s behind it.
First things first: By all accounts, the billboards are not somebody’s idea of a sick joke.
Stop Having Kids spokeswoman Ashley Riddle says the group started informally in Portland a few months before March 2021 and identifies itself as a “collective liberation movement.” Its website makes the group’s platform clear: The organization is “antinatalist,” meaning it’s against all human reproduction.
Lamar Advertising, a billboard company based in Baton Rouge, La., owns the billboards in question, part of the company’s portfolio of 400 billboards in the Portland area.
Richard Smith, Lamar’s Portland manager, says headquarters reviews prospective advertisers. “Once [the vice president of governmental affairs] vets it with his people, then we don’t worry about it because it’s been done at the highest level of our company,” Smith says. “You sign a contract, you pay for it, your billboard goes up.”
Smith declined to disclose the duration of Stop Having Kids’ contract or how much the group is paying, but he says medium-sized bulletins on the eastside of Portland cost between $800 and $1,200 a month.
Riddle says money for the billboards came from an anonymous donor, and actually getting them put up was a long process: “There was some difficulty in finding a company that would follow through. [Companies] would seem all for it, and then they stopped responding.”
She declined to identify the founder of Stop Having Kids by his full name, saying she knows him only as “Dietz.”
State records show, however, that Stop Having Kids was incorporated in January 2021 by Eric Goldberg, a Portland photographer whose middle name is Dietz.
Riddle says Dietz creates almost all of the content on the organization’s website, most of which is information on antinatalism.
Information about Goldberg isn’t readily available. The owner of stophavingkids.org is cloaked by an internet proxy, and the website lists no staff or contact information aside from the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goldberg did not respond to WW’s requests for comment. That makes it a little harder to unpack what he’s seeking.
After all, Oregon’s birth rates are already low. According to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the state’s birth rate stands at 40th in the nation. And in 2020, state figures show, deaths here outnumbered births for the first time ever.
Stop Having Kids defines antinatalism as “a philosophical and ethical stance against human reproduction” and says antinatalists consider human reproduction to be “an irreversible, unnecessary, indefensible, and enduring form of harm, regardless of circumstances, situations, or consciousness in living.”
The group says it wants to inspire and provoke critical thinking about reproductive choices and is against forcing individuals to do anything either way.
The site lists a myriad of reasons for being antinatalist, including “Birth Defects,” “Life Is Suffering” and “Enough People Already.”
Stop Having Kids also links antinatalism to veganism, coining the term “vegantinatalism.” The site says the two ideologies are one and the same since both are rooted in harm reduction and compassion.
Goldberg’s activism apparently isn’t reserved for antinatalism.
2020 news reports from Minnesota say an Oregonian named Eric Goldberg, the same age as the Stop Having Kids founder (now 34), used a $1,900 drone to surveil a chicken farming operation there when a truck driver for the chicken processing plant blasted the drone from the sky with his shotgun. The shooter was arrested.
In addition to billboards and its website, Stop Having Kids does advocacy work through sidewalk demonstrations that Riddle calls “street outreach.”
A small group stations itself on a sidewalk with signs that say things like “Normalize Antinatalism” and “Parenthood Regret Is a Silent Epidemic.”
Riddle says the goal of street outreach is to have as many conversations as possible. “People share their stories about being child-free or wishing they were never born or their parents saying that they regret having them.”
On the flipside, sidewalk pop-ups often spark confrontation, which is documented and posted on Stop Having Kids’ YouTube channel.
In a clip taken on Southwest 5th Avenue in Portland and uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 17, a man on a bike rides by the demonstrators and says, “Not down with eugenics.” The unseen camera operator recording the interaction responds, “Where do you see anything about eugenics?” The biker says, “I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.” To this, the recorder says, “This has nothing to do with eugenics.…We are totally against human procreation all across the board.”
The Portland clip isn’t the only time the group’s messaging has been likened to eugenics, controlling reproduction to increase desired heritable characteristics. In a video uploaded Jan. 25, 2021, a woman, after filming and yelling at demonstrators, says, “I don’t like Nazis who pretend to help others and try to make minorities not have children.”
Riddle says despite such incidents, responses from passersby have been overwhelmingly positive. (Riddle’s Minneapolis chapter of Stop Having Kids also prepares food and hands it out to individuals experiencing homelessness and does garbage cleanups.) But increasing the fold has been difficult. “There’s a lot of people who will reach out and say they would love to join,” Riddle says, “but then a day comes and they don’t show.”
Stop Having Kids raises money through donations and merchandise sales. Every month, a portion of proceeds goes to a different organization.
For February 2022, it’s sending money to React19, an organization “working to increase our understanding in the role of COVID-19 in those who experience systemic and prolonged symptoms, after acute infection or after vaccination.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), one of the most ardent anti-vaxxers in Congress, hosted an “expert panel” on vaccine dangers in November, including a React19 co-founder as one of his experts. React19 did not respond to a request for comment.
Riddle says she’s unaware of any particular reason Stop Having Kids chose to support React19. “It’s just whatever pops up on Dietz’s radar.”