“We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There”: Slab City and how they found what society lost.

Date of Award


Document Type


First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velázquez


Since the 1960’s Slab City has been home to a wide variety of individuals squatting on an abandoned military base out in the desert of eastern California. Along the way the Slabs picked up the reputation for being the “last free place in America.” Freedom is a very broad word and can take on many meanings, but what is it about Slab City that promotes freedom? And how is that sense of freedom sustained amongst the many differing types of people? Squatter communities typically result from a revolt against social norms and laws that constrict and marginalize the poor. This is also apparent in the counter-culture as well, the phenomenon of running away from what society deems as normal and revolting through the rebellion of those norms. Slab City also lacks basic amenities that qualify America as civilized, such as hot running water, grid electricity, and trash removal. These amenities can be seen throughout the upper and middle classes of mainstream America. Through a series of interviews and participatory observations I get a glimpse into the lives of the people who make Slab City their home and how they are able to function outside of mainstream America, while also looking at the irony of an abandoned military base turned squatter haven. While there are a small number of year rounders, my findings show that most of the people are simply passing through for the season. Contrary to popular terms of freedom, meaning monetarily free and lawlessness, Slab City promotes a freedom to be yourself; “we’re all here because we’re not all there.” The residents of Slab City are not completely free from government assistance or electronics. It is not a utopian movement away from technology, but a movement towards more sustainable options such as solar panels and bicycles. Slab City is a utopia in its own sense, promoting music, freedom of oneself, and sustainable measures in the middle of one of America’s harshest climates.


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