One of the measures of how serious a society is about personal freedom is the way in which it deals with harmless eccentrics. The city of Miami is currently failing the freedom test. The nannies and killjoys in its code department have ganged up on a 65-year-old hippie grandmother who missed the last chopper out of the Sixties and has been living in a tree for the last quarter of a century, to the disadvantage of no one. In fact, most in her neighborhood near downtown Miami didn’t even know she was there until the city made news by ordering her home destroyed.
That’s right. Living in a tree. More accurately, a treehouse. But not a kid’s treehouse. It has electricity, running water, a stove, a refrigerator, a bookcase, a computer, and a TV set. All the comforts of home, albeit an unconventional home, which Shawnee Chasser shares with her dogs, cats, and a raccoon named Mary J. Blige.
La Chasser, who protested against the Vietnam war and nuclear weapons before retreating to her tree, says she’s a bit claustrophobic and dislikes walls and air conditioning. She says she likes the openness, the breeze, the nearness to nature of her treehouse, even during the heat and thunderstorms of a Miami summer. “I absolutely love storms up there,” she told CBS News. “In the last 10 years there has been wonderful lightning and thunder. I just embrace it all. It’s my favorite thing. I need to know I can touch the rain.”
Some may suggest that our Shawnee is a bit touched herself, in one sense already out of her tree. But what of it? If she has lived in her tree for 25 years with no harm to herself, and without incommoding her neighbors in any way, the ear mites in the code department have a hill to climb to demonstrate that her peculiar arrangements are a threat to her or anyone else. They have found her treehouse to be unfit for human habitation, in spite of the fact that Chasser has inhabited it comfortably and to her satisfaction for 25 years.
The hall monitors in the code department have presented Chasser with a list of “improvements” she must make to her treehouse if she’s to be allowed to stay there. Meeting the requirements, of course, would cost a packet, surely beyond the reach of her meager income, fetched in by making and marketing Shawnee’s Green Thumb Popcorn, which no one will be surprised to learn is organic and gluten-free. She calls it “hippie cheese.” And, of course, if all the code department’s “improvements” were met, it would hardly be a treehouse anymore.
Chasser is being assisted in her time of trouble by a lawyer, Ari Bargil, with a non-profit law firm that advocates for private property rights. “Shawnee’s treehouse is a peaceful, harmless structure that hurts nobody,” Bargil said. “The county’s only concern should be whether her treehouse is safe. Instead, they are imposing an ill-fitting regulatory framework on her, and thus essentially fining her for being different.”
Hard to argue with this. La Chasser is hardly an off-the-rack Miami Burgher. But just because she’s a bit off-plumb, that’s no reason she should be bossed around by a bunch of busy-body bureaucrats and document-stampers about all of her living arrangements. Our national anthem ends with the star-spangled banner yet waving over the land of the free. In the land of the truly free, we’d leave this woman alone. Her battle continues. We’ll keep you up to date.