‘I’m In This For We’: Mckayla Wilkes On Why She’s Challenging Steny Hoyer For His Seat In Congress

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Mckayla Wilkes

Source: Mckayla Wilkes / Mckayla Wilkes for Congress

Last week Mckayla Wilkes officially launched her campaign to run for Congress in Maryland, with hopes to unseat Rep. Steny Hoyer, the longest-serving House Democrat who represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District.

 

This is Wilkes’ second effort running against Hoyer after bowing out of the 2020 primary race where she gained momentum among voting members of her district, primarily young adults and students. Wilkes, 30, received 26.7 percent of the vote in the primary compared to Hoyer’s 64.4 percent. While Hoyer went on to be re-elected, Wilkes’ popularity proved that her constituents agree that there’s room for change.

Against the juggernaut of a politician like Hoyer with long standing connections, as well as corporate and PAC donations, Wilkes runs on more of a grassroots level, relying solely on donations from community members.

Wilkes, a queer Black woman, mother, and essential worker, is part of a wave of activists who sought the ballot as a battleground to forge a new path for their communities. She advocates for equity in healthcare, reform in the criminal justice system and environmental justice.

Wilkes believes that her lived experience sets her apart from other candidates.

“Yes it’s important to have academic knowledge of different policies and the way they affect people,” she told NewsOne. “But when you have someone who’s directly impacted, it’s a total different kind of leadership. Which is why I don’t look at myself as a politician, I look at myself as a movement leader. And we need people that can take that movement from the ground into the halls of congress.”

NewsOne talked with Wilkes about the road ahead to 2022, her dreams for a Black future and the issues at large for her constituents, who live just outside the confines of Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mckayla Wilkes: What motivated me was that the movement was still there and that the issues in our communities are still there. As we can see COVID has highlighted all of the issues that already existed in our communities. People are still struggling to get healthcare, people are still fighting for a just system, as it pertains to criminal justice reform. We’re still in the fight for our mental justice. And my Congressman Steny Hoyer is still being consistent in his stagnation of actually passing policies that are centered around people. And so since the issues are still there, I decided that it is still very important for me to run to give people in my community a voice.

NO: In the current social justice and political climate, I wanted to talk about the emergence of more progressive candidates and if you align yourself as a progressive candidate?

MW: I do align myself with those values because it’s important to have people that have lived experience to represent those who also have those same kind of lived experience. Because my story is not just my story right? It’s the story of so many other people in this country and in my district. And so it’s important to have someone that can legislate from that point of view.

NO: As a mom and as a Black woman, the challenges you face every day are unique and particular. We have seen candidates open up more to share their personal experiences, which while painful, are relatable to many Americans. How have your experiences helped shape you?

MW: As far as being able to resonate with the constituency, I know what it’s like to have health insurance and be denied healthcare. I know what it’s like to not have health insurance and not have access to healthcare. Being pregnant and finding out that I have blood clots and watching my team of physicians have to haggle with my insurance company to pay for the medic that I needed in order to survive. But on top of that, being denied that healthcare and being sent away three times after going to the emergency room repeatedly and not having my pain taken seriously. I could have been that statistic with the high death maternal rate amongst Black women because our pain isn’t taken seriously. I’ve lived that. I’ve experienced our injustice system with being thrown into the school to prison pipeline, being incarcerated because essentially, I was dealing with grief. Being incarcerated for truancy, being incarcerated because I couldn’t pay a traffic ticket because of debt. I have all of these lived experiences that resonate with so many people. And that gives me a different viewpoint on leading, of being a voice for my community. Because I understand why we need a universal healthcare system. I understand why we need an actual criminal justice system, because what we have now is not a criminal justice system. It’s not based on justice at all. I think it’s important to tell those stories, but I think it’s even more important to lead from those stories as a person who is directly impacted.

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