Earlier this month, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) stood on the floor of the House of Representatives to name the 301 Marylanders who have fallen victim to gun violence this year. She ran out of her allotted time and was cut off before she could finish, but her message was clear: Gun violence is an issue she’s willing to fight tooth and nail to address, and she wasn’t going to patiently wait for her time to speak.
As an outlier of the political process, Edwards is used to being interrupted and knocked down, but she’s also developed an acute ability to get right back up.
As a single mother who once relied on food stamps, Edwards didn’t have a trust fund to dip into or a sea of wealthy donors pushing her to enter the world of politics. She didn’t have prior political experience before her first campaign for Congress in 2006. Then, one morning she woke up and asked herself, “Why not me?”
“No one ever came to me and said, ‘By the way Donna, we thought about [you] running for Congress,'” Edwards told Mic. “I self-recruited.”
She was an active member of her community but had never held office. “Being an 11th-grade class president was like, the highest elected office I had ever held,” she said.
Edwards lost that first campaign, but was successful in winning a special election two years later. Having represented Maryland’s 4th congressional district for the past seven years, she’s now determined to bring her work to the Senate floor.
Edwards is running to replace outgoing Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the longest serving female member of Congress, who announced her plans to retire in March. If Edwards defeats Rep. Chris Van Hollen to win the Democratic nomination and emerges victorious in the general election, she would become just the second black woman in U.S. history to be elected to the Senate. (Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat from Illinois, served one term from 1993 to 1999.)
This lack of representation in the Senate is all the more surprising given the fact black women are a key constituency of the Democratic Party.
“They are the most predictable, reliable and Democratic vote,” Edwards said. “How do you envision having a conversation about changing the fabric of this nation without having a black woman around the table?”