Motherhood and Democracy: A Conversation with Jordan Davis and Marilyn Carpinteyro
Women and mothers have always been at the forefront of the movement to build a stronger and more inclusive democracy. Since March, Common Cause has continued that tradition with two mothers, Jordan Davis and Marilyn Carpinteyro, taking the helm as Interim Co-Presidents.
Together, they are leading the national and state teams responsible for reforming our democracy while raising the voices of tomorrow. For Mother’s Day, Jordan and Marilyn reflected on their experience with motherhood in the democracy space. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.
When did you become a mom?
Jordan: My daughter, who is now 6, was born in the Fall of 2016. We lived in London at the time. We were in the middle of Brexit and six weeks later was the presidential election.
Marilyn: My daughter, Mila, was born in 2022, just a few months before the midterm elections. I came back to work just weeks before voters were heading to the polls.
How does being a mother make you a stronger advocate for change?
Jordan: It raises my sense of responsibility because I see my daughter and her friends and the idea that it is possible that people who aren’t from the same place and who don’t look the same can be friends in a really deep and meaningful way.
It’s the hope that we can create a place where everyone has a life of dignity. You want your kids to be proud of you and you want them to think “my parents were good people.” I want my daughter to look back and be proud of what we were trying to do.
Marilyn: I’m lucky to work at a place like Common Cause. Each and every day I get to go to work with people who are advocating for change. I see the battles big and small we’re winning to improve our democracy for everyone. I understand the amount of work and effort that is going into the future. It means a lot to bring that experience home to my daughter and my family.
What’s the most challenging part of being a mom in this space?
Jordan: When I have to explain to my daughter what Black Lives Matter means and why people have to even say that. She was 4 when the Black Lives Matter movement was happening and that was not the timeline that I would have preferred to have spoken to her about that but that was just the reality.
And that is challenging, is to try to explain why based on the color of someone’s skin, what gender they are, how much money they have, that that in America, in many cases, determines how you are treated. And when you really try to explain why, it’s an impossible thing to explain. And I have to explain it in a way that doesn’t make her scared, or sad, or angry. So that’s the challenging part, is trying to maintain that balance and making sure she understands the world we are in and at the same time not making it seem like this really horrific place.
Marilyn: Finding time to take a break and take a step back. There are so many important issues and things that come up and take your attention away from the things and the people that matter in life. Losing Karen Hobert Flynn, a good friend and mentor of mine this year, who was a mother herself, was a really though thing to go through.
Karen was always so proud to talk about her family. And because of that she was so supportive of those of us on staff who had or were starting families of our own. It meant a lot to have someone who was so encouraging of that aspect of your life. I always try to remember how she always brought her family into this space, that it’s them and the future who we come to work to fight for.
What’s your favorite activity to do together?
Jordan: We just got really into watching cooking shows together, especially The Great British Bake Off. On Friday nights, we watch an episode of whatever cooking series we are on and then the day after when she is playing in her kitchen, she’ll pretend she is a chef and is making dishes for me to try as a judge. Or when I cook her dinner, she’ll say “I’m going to be the judge and tell you what I think…I like the taste but not so much the texture.” It’s both rude and cool.
Marilyn: It may sound simple, but just seeing Mila grow and experience life. This last year, it’s been such a blessing to be able to watch her experience their firsts and learn more about life. And as her mother, I want to do everything I can to make sure all of her experiences are as positive and fun and inspiring as possible. Let’s also be real, I really enjoyed dressing her up for Halloween too.
Which part of your “parent self” do you bring to your “work self” that surprises you?
Jordan: All of my years as a teacher were before I had my daughter and I wish I could do some of those years again. When I drop her off at school now and think about how much trust you are placing in all of these people with your child, I couldn’t fully appreciate at the time what people were entrusting me with—that’s someone’s most precious asset.
Every single one of us has a very full and meaningful existence outside of the hours we spend at work and so what I try to bring to my “work self” from my “parent self” is just remembering that. Remembering that this small piece is not it and that everyone is the most important person to someone else. It’s making sure we really see people and not reducing them to a job that they have or the deliverable they create because that’s how I want people to always see my daughter, as a person.
Marilyn: Becoming a mom I’ve had to accept and learn to become ok with the fact I can’t do it all. Each day there is going to be something that gives. One day, I’m going to be really good at some things and other days I’m not—and that’s ok. As long as I’m doing the best I can that day, that’s what matters.
What’s the most surprising aspect of motherhood?
Jordan: I think for me it’s that I see a lot of myself in my daughter. I think it has helped me give myself more grace. There were things that I saw as a flaw in myself, but seeing it in her, and of course nothing is a flaw, it all brilliant, it helps me think “why don’t I give myself the same break that I want to give her?”
Marilyn: How as a parent you care so much more about everything. When I think about Mila, I want her to have a good experience and I want her to live in a place that is better than the way it is now.
What can kids teach all of us about how to handle the division in our country?
Jordan: I think kids make it more simple than we do. There is more forgiveness and they are able to go into a situation more open than the average adult does. I think back to the Martin Luther King quote, kids really do care about the content of your character. They ask basic questions like “is someone kind, funny, and nice to me?” That’s what it’s about, not all these other things we start to attach as we get older.
Marilyn: That we all need the same things in life. We all need to feel loved and respected. Those are critical necessities and children are dependent on their family like we’re all depending on one another in community. I think it’s important that at the most basic level, we all just want to be treated with respect and kindness.
What is your hope for the future of democracy that your (and all our) children will inherit someday?
Jordan: It’s why I am here. I want my daughter to see an American democracy where the systems and structures of democracy actually work to represent the best interests of people. I want her to see elected officials at every level and have trust that they are doing their best to represent the people who elected them as opposed to the corporate interests or their own ego or the power of it all. I really hope the democracy that we live in is functioning more to represent more people than what we see right now.
Marilyn: We live in a space that is so hyper-polarized. It’s gotten so that now participating in our democracy is so divisive. I hope we can get to a place of shared values and can come together to protect our democracy as a place for all of us to participate.
We should all feel comfortable raising our voices and no one should ever be afraid to speak up honestly about an issue. We can disagree, and I’m not saying it will be easy, but I am saying it needs to feel safe for people to participate. Everyone deserves to feel like they can be heard and that their voice matters