@queerappalachia / Gina Mamone
October 5th - November 2018
Which Side Are You On?
“There is no peace in West Virginia because there is no justice in West Virginia.”
- Mother Jones
Which Side Are You On? is a new work by Gina Mamone, co-founder of the West Virginia-based art collective Queer Appalachia. Which Side Are You On? invokes the spirit of Zoe Leonard’s 1992 poem I Want a President, but speaks with the voice of 2018 rural America. A nearly one-story tall print of the work will be on public display 24 hours a day beginning October 5th and running through November 2018.
I Want a President was a countercultural manifesto written at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Leonard wrote the poem only several years after the end of a Reagan administration that had largely ignored the subject of AIDS, with devastatingly fatal consequences. The words of the original piece advocated for a society led by people who have had first-hand experience with the feeling of being powerless, and it circulated among artists for years like an analogue meme before becoming resurrected in the digital age.
Twenty-six years after Leonard’s original, Which Side Are You On? is a familiar plea that addresses a new urgency: the opioid epidemic. Addiction to opioids has disproportionately ravaged poorer socioeconomic regions, and working class communities with aging manual laborers who are often introduced to opioids through prescription painkillers. By most metrics, Mamone’s home state of West Virginia is one of the top three poorest states in the nation, and also has the recurring distinction of having the nation’s highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths. Mamone lives and creates at the mathematically precise point of Ground Zero of the opioid epidemic.
Which Side Are You On? takes its title from a folk song by the Kentucky social activist and poet Florence Reece; the song has become a celebrated Appalachian labor organization anthem. (Reece’s husband was a union organizer in Harlan County during the Coal Wars, before dying of Black Lung.) Mamone grew up in the coalfields of West Virginia in a home with mining going back on both sides of their family for generations. Their great-grandfather participated in the Battle of Blair Mountain, and they are quick to recall the long, and too-often misunderstood history of #ruralresistance in Appalachia. Like Zoe Leonard’s poem, Reece’s song has taken on new interpretations and verses as it has traveled through time and place. They exist as parallel touchstones for present-day anthems of hope, converging here in Mamone's expression of resistance to the continuing injustices of extreme class divisions.
The text of Which Side Are You On? reads:
"I want a survivor for Governor. I want a Governor whose home has been raided by ICE. I want the child of a public school teacher for Governor, and I want someone who knows what days to hit what food pantries. I want a Governor who has had experience heating a home with its oven, knows what a cruel joke rural public transportation is, and who never had the option to go to college. I want a Governor who knows what it’s like when your utilities are cut off, knows the game of not if but when. I want a Governor who drinks the city tap water, only knows what it’s like to have fresh vegetables because they grew them themselves, and takes better care of their community than they do their cast-iron skillet. I want a Governor who knows what Coinstar is because they’ve had to, what it’s like for SNAP benefits to decrease annually as they see their children get bigger and bigger. I want a Governor who calls out the predatory economics of cash-to-payday loans in our strip malls, talks candidly about the violence capitalism causes in our community, and who knows what it’s like to not be able to afford a security deposit. I want a Governor that knows it’s ALL scrip. I want a Governor that had a tooth extracted in a large animal stall at the state fairgrounds because it was the only option, that grew up going to the Health Wagon, RAM & Mission of Mercy clinics. I want a Governor who detoxed alone without the support of trained professionals because that’s all they could afford. I want a Governor who knows what it’s like to share a bedroom wall with someone that has Black Lung . . . for decades, so they know what it sounds like at every stage. I want a Governor who has been denied disability on multiple occasions despite documentation and need. I want a Governor who flies a #BLM flag at the capital, refuses to call our home an extraction state and feels there is no reason to have a “dialogue” about what to do with all these Confederate Monuments. I want a Governor that believes only women should speak at women’s rallies and that feel it’s their duty to chain themselves to heavy machinery in the path of pipelines in our backyards. I want a Pro-Sex Worker Prison Abolitionist Governor who isn’t afraid to say the word R-E-P-E-R-A-T-I-O-N-S. I want a Governor that still catches fire flies, sings Jolene & Fancy at karaoke, has bell hooks on their bedside table and Narcan in their pocket. I want a Governor who knows words like Harm Reduction & Restorative Justice should be seen in places other than just in our states grants, that will promise us a needle exchange for every McDonald’s / Pill Mill in the county. I want a Governor that doesn’t see addiction & poverty as moral failures, that doesn’t see stewarding our community as a steppingstone in their career. I want a Governor that believes we’ve had a near-fatal amount of politicians and are desperate for leaders. I want a Governor that understands that the Civil War never ended; we just traded in our cannon fodder & muskets for more deadly weapons, like school district zones, mortgage rates, and being so poor you literally live on top of poison—from the coal slurry in West Virginia creeks to the streets of Flint Michigan. I’m tired of asking the people whose salary we pay: Which Side Are You On?"
More About Queer Appalachia: At once an online curatorial platform, a social justice activist group, and an internet meme stash, Queer Appalachia defies easy categorization. “Queer Appalachia might be the most dynamic and diverse Appalachian media organization you’ve never heard of,” says Elizabeth Catte, author of What You’re Getting Wrong About Appalachia. As of September 2018, Queer Appalachia’s Instagram account has over 80K followers—but that page is only one part of a constellation of resources that spreads out across the region. Supported by an extensive digital community network that is constantly creating content for their mediums, QA’s combined digital platforms communicate daily to an audience of hundreds of thousands of rural queers and allies who call home below the Mason Dixon Line. Last year the collective published a zine called Electric Dirt, which is about to release its second issue, and they have recently collaborated with artist Nan Goldin and her group PAIN / Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, to help hold Big Pharma accountable for its role in the opioid epidemic (specifically the Sackler family). Queer Appalachia’s presence in the region functions like a massive watering hole with no fixed address—where rural, Appalachian, and Southern subversives can gather together to share stories of struggle, solidarity and unbridled rural queer joy.
More about Mamone: In addition to being Creative Director of the Queer Appalachia Project, Gina Mamone is an audio engineer and maker living in the coalfields of West Virginia. Says Mamone, “My people go back generations in the coalfields, they were makers, farmers & miners. I’m two generations away from ancestors that built their own homes, i’m lucky enough to still have access to some of those, to be able to touch the ax marks with my hands my great great grandfather made building the 1 room lofted cabin my grandmother was raised in." Mamone’s work explores the limits of the Appalachian concept of “homespun” and the emotional textures of contemporary maker culture. As Creative Director of Queer Appalachia, Mamone’s work has been featured in Art Forum, Art Net, Hyperallergic, USA Today, Mashable, MTV’s Logo, Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, Burnaway, CNN, OUT Magazine, Curve Magazine, 100 Days in Appalachia, Bitch Magazine, The Advocate, BELT, Its Going Down, THEM, and Autostraddle. Additionally, Mamone engineered and produced some of the first Riot Grrrl albums as President of Riot Grrrl Ink, the largest queer record label in the world, with an artist roster that ranged from the Gay Ole Opry to Andrea Gibson. In 2014 in an act of solidarity with the emerging #BLM movement and in an intentional act of reparations and redistribution of wealth, Mamone gave RGI to Awqward, the first queer POC/ indigenous talent agency.