On the Commons:
A newsletter about ownership, property, and what we lose in the privatization of the commons, by essayist and author of A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom—One Step at a Time Antonia Malchik. I have written essays for Aeon, The Atlantic, Orion, High Country News, and many other publications (most published essays are on my website). I live in northwest Montana with my spouse, two kids, a dog, and a whole lot of wildlife.
On the Commons explores ownership and its inevitable injustices. It looks at the losses of physical commons—land, water, air, knowledge—in tandem with human rights throughout history, and the little-known stories of people working right now to reclaim stolen commons and rebuild lifeways shaped by ethics of kinship and caregiving rather than ownership and domination.
The best description for what I write came from a regular reader: “It makes me feel informed without terrifying me.”
I don’t ignore current events here, but if I write about them it’s in the context of deep structures and systemic forces. On the Commons is less about trying to find new ways of human-ing together, with this world, than it is about restoring life to ways of thinking and possibility that forces like colonialism have forced into atrophy. I also post a photo to the Chat around once a week, just something nice or funny, and invite you to share. This world’s such a beautiful place, and we take better care of it when we love it.
A paid subscription supports the research and writing of my book-in-progress, No Trespassing: How the Ancient Struggle for Ownership, Private Property, and the Rights of the Commons Will Define Our Future, which is being published right here, and wider research into the commons, privatization, and commodification and the ways in which they shape our lives. This project grew out of my first book, A Walking Life, which was about how walking makes us human, and how we lost it through a century of car-centric infrastructure—enclosure, essentially, of public rights of way and access in service of the automobile.
Paid and free subscribers have access to the same writing and ability to comment. But more paid subscriptions translates into more writing and deeper research shared with everyone—no gated community or enclosure.
On the Commons also donates 5% of revenue each quarter to an Indigenous-led not-for-profit in Montana, such as FAST Blackfeet, All Nations Health Center, the People’s Food Sovereignty Program, and the Montana Two-Spirit Society. Please consider supporting sovereignty wherever you are.
A little about me: I was born and raised in Montana, where my great-great-grandparents homesteaded in the early 1900s. A lot of what I grapple with comes from being a descendant of homesteaders I respect while knowing that that land was stolen, and I don’t want to sugarcoat that reality. I don’t own that land and don’t have any power to return it, but do advocate for Land Back.
My father grew up under Stalin in the Soviet Union. I lived in Moscow for a brief time in my early teens and my father has been running a small business there since 1991. Much of my approach to politics and discourse comes from that perspective and his experience, along with the fact that I live in a very conservative county in northwest Montana, where I advocate for more political and social engagement at local and regional levels, and for public lands and walkable communities.
My research on private property discards centuries of philosophical and legal arguments made in its defense for a much simpler explanation: theft. Or, as I put it, “I took it; now it’s mine.” A proposition I’m exploring here through ownership of land, water, seeds, people, data, and more.
As a lifelong lover of science fiction, fantasy, and especially Lord of the Rings, I refer to them on a regular basis. Good science fiction is one of the best lenses for seeing where humanity is and where we might be going; and absolute private property is, in a way, like the One Ring itself: It rules us all, and in the darkness binds us. I’d throw it into Mount Doom if Mordor weren’t in this case metaphorical.
Feel free to browse around my first big project here, an extensive list of readings and essays related to private land ownership throughout history, including the original 15th-century papal bulls comprising the Doctrine of Discovery that Europeans used to colonize as much of the world as they could, the messy nature of modern private property law, and the Land Back movement; or read the first installment of No Trespassing.
THANK YOU for being here!