Mo Kessler

Sylva, Jackson County, North Carolina

Photo: Bear Allison

I am a visual artists and community organizer from Kentucky. I am also a founding member of the LIVLAB Artist Collective and the founder of the Shelter in Place (SiP), a residency program for visual artists engaged in community organizing and activism. My work in the studio and in community is focused on labor, class, the politics of extraction and disposability and the radical resistance to both. 

Why Mo got involved in the AAN:

Being from Kentucky, the only national media coverage of my state I experienced growing up was patronizing at best and utterly dehumanizing at worst, and more times than not it was the latter. When I started organizing against mountaintop removal, I came to understand the nefarious roots of this type of media coverage and how it works to construct a narrative that allows the nation to wash their hands of any responsibility to this region as it continues to benefit from the regions destruction. Once I was aware of this, it was like a through point for me to understand the media’s role in propagating anti-Black racism and xenophobia. I wanted to be involved in this initiative to be a voice that helps makes these connections, so our calls for media accountability is not just a call from one silo of concern but one that is truly intersectional and rooted in the struggle for justice. 

What they’d like to see happen during the first 100 days of the next presidential administration:

I hope for nuance and for the good work happening here to be highlighted. Since the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, people across Appalachia have stood up with their neighbors to fight back and to create a vision for what justice would mean in their own communities. This work isn’t a flash in the pan but represents years of organizing and agitating. Our youth across this region face overwhelming unique challenges and are finding ways to support each other and to fight for each other. I hope by showing the depth and volume of these efforts we can paint an Appalachia that isn’t in need of a savior but in fact holds internally all it needs to bring about a righteous change. 

Mo’s advice for journalists who want to cover Appalachia:

Listen more and assume less. Classism is one of the most unchecked biases in media, do the work to unlearn your prejudice. Question who your narrative serves and who it benefits. Finally, Appalachia is not a white monolith.