Mckayla Wilkes hasn’t given up on her mission to bring power back to the people of Maryland. The 30-year-old, working-class single mom is announcing her second run for Congress today — and her first stop is the 2022 Democratic primary against the incumbent, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Wilkes lost her race against Hoyer in 2020, but she finished second out of the five candidates who ran.
Inspired by the wins and work of fellow progressives like representatives Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Wilkes is running a campaign that places her community and its constituents at the center. (Bush, who represents St. Louis, won her 2020 race after losing to the incumbent in 2018.) Wilkes tells Teen Vogue that the distinction between her and Hoyer, one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, could not be starker: Wilkes is running a grassroots campaign; Hoyer, according to NPR, raised more than $2.8 million in contributions in the last election cycle, with more than half coming from super PACs, pharmaceutical companies, and other industries (Hoyer told NPR he’s not beholden to those corporate interests). Wilkes wants to secure Medicare for All and end the school-to-prison pipeline because of her lived experience as a young Black woman growing up in Waldorf, Maryland; Hoyer is an 81-year-old white man who has represented Maryland’s 5th District for almost 40 years, currently serving his 21st term.
Wilkes says she has something new to contribute with her candidacy — on behalf of herself and, more importantly, the people of Maryland.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Teen Vogue: Why have you decided to run again?
Mckayla Wilkes: Because the issues are still here. The movement is still here. People are still struggling with access to health care and we’re still in the fight for environmental justice. We’re still in the fight for actual criminal justice reform. There are a lot of things that are still pertinent in our community, and COVID has highlighted those issues that have always been here. So I decided to run again because regular people still need a seat at the table.
I already knew that if we didn’t win in 2020, I was going to try again. They say, “if at first you don’t succeed, get back up and try again.”
TV: What do you think will go differently this time?
MW: We have momentum to build off of, and we have a movement to build off of. Our campaign was so much bigger than just me running for Congress. It was the first movement of its kind that my district has ever seen. I think that will be something that’s really different this time around, because people want that change — we saw that within the last cycle. I mean, of course we didn’t win, but we did pose the most serious Democratic primary challenge for Hoyer in his entire career. Seeing how well we did, how many people we’ve gotten to speak to, and how many votes we were able to obtain — that let us know that people in our communities want change.
TV: What have you been doing since your last campaign?
MW: I want to say I hit the ground running after the campaign, but I really feel like I have not stopped hitting the ground. Immediately after the campaign, we launched our nonprofit, Schools Not Jails, which focuses on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Over the past several months, I’ve been meeting with state legislatures, getting them to support legislation to end the school-to-prison pipeline. We’ve been very focused on removing school resource officers (SROs) from public schools, and reallocating the money given toward school safety that typically goes to SROs — which is about $10 million in the state of Maryland.