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Slab City: A desert community harboring society’s outcasts

Slab City, California is a refuge. A place where society’s outcasts can live without judgement. For many, it’s the end of the road. Those who have burned all their bridges in life still can still find a home in Slab City.

Residents of Slab City, or Slabbers, often call their home “The Last Free Place,” as the presence of law enforcement is few and far between. Slabbers make their own decisions, often veering from the law, and from what would be acceptable in society. Simply put, Slabbers do what they feel is right for them.

People come to the dusty desert town for different reasons, but for many it’s a last resort. Travelers and wanderers pass through, but most of the population is stuck there. Homeless and impoverished people can appreciate the lack of rent – after all, they are squatting illegally.

Aging hippies can still find some of the free-spiritedness of the 60’s in Slab City. Anarchists and criminals skirting the law often retreat to the community, far from the troubles of the wider world.

Slab City is named for the slabs of concrete slowly crumbling to dust underfoot. The community is built upon a former WWII artillery training base, Camp Dunlap.

The town has no shortage of freedom. What it is short on, however, is utilities. As a result of its lawless, post-apocalyptic desert existence, the town lacks running water (people can skinny dip in a lagoon should they want to bathe), and even power.

While Slab City may be lacking in some basic amenities most take for granted, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some of the comforts of any other town. Slabbers have the opportunity to not only visit the town’s anarchist library, but to reconnect with the rest of the world at the Cyber Cafe.

The town’s community is centered around a music venue called The Range, where they have live music Saturday nights and an annual Slab City prom in May.

Slab City is a snowbird camp, meaning that people who call it home stay only in the winter months. However, a dedicated few decide to brave the summer heat of the desert and live in Slab City year round.

(Photo courtsey of Dan Ludmark/Flicker.com)
MICHAEL, Slab City resident, is pictured
with his family.

While it may feel a world away, the nearest town, Niland, is only a short ways away for stocking up on supplies and reconnecting with civilization.

While Slab City is unconventional on all fronts, what is perhaps most striking about the town is what Slabbers call home, whether by choice or necessity. Walking down the dusty roads of Slab City, you won’t find your average
run-of-the-mill ranch houses and McMansions.

Instead, you’ll find people living in RV’s, elaborate tent palaces, homes made of scrap material, repurposed Honda Civics, or merely a collection of couches out in the desert sun. There’s no homeowners association stopping anybody
from living in the home that’s right for them.

Slabbers not only make their lives an art, they make their surroundings art. That is what is perhaps most notable about Slab City, the scattered art installations throughout town. People repurpose anything to make a statement, from a stack of nonfunctioning TVs with anarchist messages to a staggering mountain of paint praising Jesus.

(Photo courtsey of Marc Cooper/Flicker.com)
STACKS of televisions contain anarchist
messages.

Life in Slab City is far from easy. The harsh desert sun can take a toll, and the truly vast level of freedom people have can even be overwhelming.

“They think that, come to Slab City and you will be provided for, and that’s the furthest from the truth,” said coffee shack owner Lynne Bright to NPR. “This little piece of ground that you’re standing on is free. That’s all.”

By Jonas Hattman, Opinions Editor, Eva Buckner, Copy Editor.

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