Things That Matter

Could This Young Woman Of Color Be The Next AOC? This Progressive Political Group Hopes So

Inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mckayla Wilkes of Maryland has got her sights set on 2020, challenging House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer for his seat. In fact, Wilkes has been influenced so much by AOC’s run for Congress in 2018, she’s now secured backing from Brand New Congress – the same progressive group that supported Ocasion-Cortez’s campaign way back when.

That’s swell and all, but why do we care?

Instagram / @meetmckayla

There’s plenty of reasons to care about Wilkes and who she is: she’s a black, working-class, 29 year-old mother-of-two studying political science in Waldorf, Maryland. When you compare her to Steny Hoyer and his background – essentially an old, white man serving his 20th term in office – you can definitely imagine that Wilkes would be more familiar with the everyday struggles that most of us face, than Hoyer. “He’s not for people that are my family, my friends, my coworkers,” Wilkes said in an interview with Buzzfeed. “It shows in the policies that he sponsors and that he endorses, and it shows in the donors that he gets his contributions from.”

Wilkes has been extremely candid and open about her past and her struggles.

Twitter / @MeetMckayla

It’s easy to see that Wilkes is as genuine as it gets, as she’s also been upfront about her past. “I just don’t want any secrets … I want everything to be out there. It’s not like I’m the only person who goes through these things,” she said, having publicly spoke about her time in jail as a teen and young adult. Wilkes has admitted to going through a rough patch, and also spoke about the abortion she had when she was 19: “It’s not like it’s something easy to do,” she told BuzzFeed recently. “It’s not an easy decision to make. But I feel like women should have that right. … My body is not a political playground. There’s no room for [politicians] in the room with me and my doctor.”

Sure, she’s more representative of the population, but what does Wilkes stand for?

Instagram / @meetmckayla

In short, it seems as if Mckayla Wilkes is running on a platform that’s kinda similar to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Things like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, affordable housing, overhauling the criminal justice system and even initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump are all on her to-do list, should she be elected. And yeah: none of these policies are gonna be easy to institute, especially as the Democrat’s current position doesn’t support impeachment. But, whoever said that running for office – and getting things done – would be easy?

She is committed to raising money for her campaign directly from her constituents.

Instagram / @meetmckayla

However, Wilkes is clearly driven by her morals, and isn’t afraid of a challenge. She’s also committed to staying away from PAC money and is seeking funding through other means. It’s meant that, since launching her campaign in June, she’s raised $70,000 from door knocking. To put it in perspective, Hoyer raised just $185 in the first quarter of 2019 from grassroots donations … and over $650,000 from other sources. What this means for Wilkes is that, having fundraised exclusively through donations from the community, her decisions and policies are tied directly to her constituents – and not other interests. More power to her, right?

It sounds like Wilkes is definitely for the people – but what is she up against?

Instagram / @leaderhoyer

Well, there is the obvious: Wilkes is running against an incumbent, and one who’s got plenty of funding and connections to boot. It’s not easy to run against someone who’s in that position. Especially when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) made an announcement earlier this year that if an organization supports candidates challenging an incumbent House Democrat, the party would cut them off from business. It means that even simple things like securing advertisers becomes that much harder for someone in Wilkes’ position.

Wilke’s campaign will be a challenging one to win but she’s got her eyes on the prize.

Instagram / @meetmckayla

Chances are that Wilkes’ campaign will face more challenges than what Ocasio-Cortez saw, too. The population of Maryland’s 5th District is 60 percent white. However, New York’s 14th District, where AOC ran for her seat, is 18 percent white. Political pundits speculate that because 2020 is a presidential election year, it’s highly likely that younger and more diverse voters will show up to have their say – which in turn should help Wilkes.

Mckayla Wilkes is no fool, and she knows that she needs to lean into the fact that she not only represents a more diverse face in the race for Congress, but also a deeper, more tangible connection to the average Joe. “That’s … what sets me apart from Hoyer and also the majority of people in Congress,” Wilkes said to the media, “because I would not be able to sleep at night knowing that I’m denying my sister health care or that I’m denying my friend a place to live or that I’m denying my classmate a place to live. So, for me, it’s personal.”

A Twenty-One Year Old Man Overslept On His First Day Of Jury Duty And Now He’s Being Sentenced To Jail And Has A Record

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A Twenty-One Year Old Man Overslept On His First Day Of Jury Duty And Now He’s Being Sentenced To Jail And Has A Record

screenshot | NBC Nightly News

These days, it doesn’t take much poking around to know that our country’s judicial system is problematic, troublesome and inherently racist. A few months ago, when news broke out about the college admissions scandals, those following the news knew well that the wealthy parents who took part in the scam would walk away essentially scot-free. They weren’t wrong. 

Earlier last month, on September 13th, actress Felicity Huffman, one of the most recognizable names caught up in the admissions scandal, was sentenced to just 14 days in federal prison for her involvement in a case that saw her charged for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Huffman’s case highlighted questions of inequity in our judicial system. Many were quick to point out that Huffman, like the other three dozen parents involved, were from extreme wealth and would undoubtedly be treated differently from poor or nonwhite defendants accused of admission and education fraud. For severe charges that were lobbed at white-collar crime convicts like former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and took education opportunities away from students far less privileged than her own kids, Huffman received 14 days in jail. 

Twenty-one-year-old Deandre Somerville should have been so lucky. 

The Florida man from West Palm Beach was sentenced to 10 days in jail this past week after a judge found him in criminal contempt of court after he overslept and missed the start of a trial he had been selected to serve jury duty for. At the time, Somerville looked up the repercussions online and according to NBC News said that he “didn’t really see too much there. … [It looked like] nobody actually ever really went to jail for it.”  Because of this, he did not notify the court or its jury office.

Deandre Somerville was sentenced to 10 days in jail, one year of probation and 150 hours of community service for failing to show up for jury duty.

The 21-year-old was also told to write a letter of apology to the court and pay $223 to cover court costs. Speaking about his own sentence, Somerville told NBC that he felt as if he “didn’t need any rehabilitation… I just made a mistake.”

According to Somerville, his 10 days in jail were “traumatic.” Sommerville who recently moved in with his grandparents to help care for them had never been arrested before now has a criminal record for contempt and spent his 10 days in jail amongst hardened criminals and in fear. 

The judge who gave Somerville his sentencing stemmed from his duty to represent his Black community.

Speaking at Somerville’s formal apology in court, Judge John Kastrenakes, of Fort Lauderdale Florida, said that he wanted to “make an example” out of Somerville to ensure more people do not fail to show up to jury duty. “Mr. Somerville was the only African American on our jury and represented a very important cross-section of our community.”

But people of color have long been used to “make an example,” when privileged nonpeople of color have caused greater harm and damage and gotten off easy. 

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was quick to underline this point in a recent tweet shared with her profile. 

“Mass incarceration is our American reality. It is a system whose logic evolved from the same lineage as Jim Crow, American apartheid, & slavery. To end it, we have to change. That means we need to have a real conversation about decarceration & prison abolition in this country,” she wrote in a retweet of a post shared by comedian Chelsea Handler who also lambasted the judge for his decision. 

AOC’s retweet went onto highlight in a thread the flaws of our judicial system citing a recent experience she had meeting a woman who had been sent to Rikers as a teen.” Yesterday morning I spoke with a woman who was thrown in Rikers as a teenager. Put in solitary confinement for MONTHS, aka torture. Force-fed pills. The conditions were so bad, she too had drank out of toilets. A cage is a cage is a cage. And humans don’t belong in them,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

The young Congresswoman’s thread highlights the severe punishments people of color have and continued to endure at the cost of our country’s broken prison and judicial system. Her message is a reminder that the actual point of the prison system is to rehabilitate, not punish those who are incarcerated and sent to jail or prison. 

This Is How Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Plans To Tackle Poverty In The US

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This Is How Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Plans To Tackle Poverty In The US

Since making her way to Capitol Hill at the start of the year, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been one of the most progressive voices in Congress — and her recently-unveiled policy package to tackle US poverty assures that her vision for the country hasn’t gotten any less bold.

“I am both energized and humbled to introduce legislation today to build upon the most transformative programs of the last century,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.

The first-year lawmaker’s legislative package is called “A Just Society,” and it includes six individual bills.

ocasio2018 / Instagram

First, the Puerto Rican congresswoman aims to update the way the US government currently calculates poverty and determines eligibility for welfare. At the moment, a single person is considered “poor” in the US if they make less than $12,500 a year. If someone makes more than that, then they are unable to benefit from programs like Medicaid, even though they could still be struggling gravely economically.  Through the proposal, called the Recognizing Poverty Act, Ocasio-Cortez would prompt the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to modify the equation so that it takes more details into account, including a person’s geographic cost of living, what portion of their income they spend on health insurance or child care, and spending toward utilities. This act would undoubtedly result in a rise in the number of people who live at or below the federal poverty level and would widen people’s eligibility to welfare programs, like Medicaid, food stamps and family planning services.

According to the U.S. Census, about 40 million Americans live in poverty, a harrowing reality that the congresswoman doesn’t think many people in the country know or understand. “If we can acknowledge how many Americans are actually in poverty I think that we can start to address some of the more systemic issues in our economy,” she told NPR.

Her policy bundle includes proposals that could help the country’s most marginalized communities, including immigrants and people who were formerly incarcerated. For instance, her Mercy in Re-entry Act proposes that individuals who have been convicted of a criminal offense would be ensured access to all federal public benefits. Presently, many states ban people with felony drug convictions from receiving welfare and food stamps.

Even more, formerly incarcerated individuals often struggle to obtain government-issued IDs. 

ocasio2018 / Instagram

Additionally, her so-called Embrace Act would guarantee federal public benefits access to anyone, regardless of their immigration status. Currently, undocumented immigrants, including DACA holders, are not eligible to receive most federal public benefits, including benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), regular Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). They’re also ineligible for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and are prohibited from purchasing unsubsidized health coverage on ACA exchanges. Still, these individuals might be able to take advantage of some benefits that are deemed “necessary to protect life or guarantee safety in dire situations,” such as emergency Medicaid, access to treatment in hospital emergency rooms, or access to healthcare and nutrition programs under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). However, rumors that the Trump administration is considering blocking immigrants using public benefits from getting their green cards is currently halting the most vulnerable in these communities from using those life-saving benefits.

“From the New Deal to the Great Society, we have shown time and again that our nation is capable of implementing big ideas and bold solutions that match the scale of the challenges we face,” Ocasio-Cortez, 29, said in her statement. “We must once again recognize the breadth and consequences of poverty in this country and work together to ensure a path forward to economic freedom for everyone.”

Her wide-ranging proposal also considers tenants and workers.

ocasio2018 / Instagram

The Place to Prosper Act would tackle the housing crisis by introducing a 3 percent national cap on annual rent increases, among other provisions. Meanwhile, the Uplift Our Workers Act would prompt the Department of Labor and the Office of Management and Budget to create a “worker-friendly score” for federal contractors.

Finally, the congressional freshman also proposed a resolution dubbed A Just Society Guarantees the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for All that would request the Senate to ratify the U.N. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

While critics have called Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal a “radical, extreme-left agenda,” the congresswoman believes it could effectively tackle the US’ poverty crisis and help the people of one of the wealthiest nations in the world to live a life beyond destitution. 

“In a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person should be too poor to live,” Ocasio-Cortez says in a video introducing her legislation. “That’s what a just society means to me.” 

Ocasio-Cortez’s legislative package is her latest ambitious proposal. Back in February, when the congressional newbie was just one month on the job, she introduced the much-talked-about Green New Deal, a series of proposals backed by leading Democrats to tackle climate change.

Read: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Made A Student Loan Payment During Meeting To Prove A Point About Corruption