How My Mom’s Run For Congress Made Me Rethink Everything About My Life

by Jenny Kaplan
Courtesy of Jenny Kaplan

In this op-ed, Jenny Kaplan, co-founder of Wonder Media Network and host of the Women belong in the House podcast, shares why her mom's decision to run for Congress inspired her to quit her job and reinvent her life.

My mom and I have always had a lot in common, so I guess it makes sense that we decided to upend our lives in tandem.

A year ago I was living in Los Angeles, working at Bloomberg News. I loved my job — I was paid to write stories about fascinating topics, and I was surrounded by fun, smart people. In my spare time, I was working on a screenplay (so LA). There was a tiny voice in the back of my head asking me when I was going to move forward, but the comfort of a good job in a sunny city mostly shut it up.

My mom was living in Greensboro, North Carolina. She was focusing on putting together a new organization to strengthen Jewish day schools across the country. She was leading boards and committees devoted to making the city, the country, and the world a better place.

We were content. Well, sort of.

Courtesy of Jenny Kaplan

The 2016 election had thrown us for a loop. In the aftermath, the polarized discourse and offensive rhetoric just kept coming. The gross underbelly of the nation was exposed in a way it hadn’t been in my lifetime. From a personal perspective, my ability to obtain health care was threatened. From a global perspective, our country’s ability to lead was questioned.

Last December, my mom said she couldn’t sit back and take it anymore. Like a record number of other women across the country, she felt called to action. She decided to step up and run for Congress. She took a leap, and I followed suit.

My mom, Kathy Manning, is now running to represent North Carolina District 13 in the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s challenging incumbent Ted Budd in order to take on the issues that people in our district really care about: making health care affordable, improving our education system, and bringing good paying jobs back to the area.

Her decision to step up forever altered my perception of politics. For perhaps the first time, I realized that politicians are people — people with full lives outside the halls of government, people with families and friends and the same spectrum of emotions as the rest of us. In that obvious, yet eye-opening discovery, I found reason for optimism. People as politicians may be stuck in partisan gridlock, but people as people are capable of compromise. We are inclined to connect with others. Through conversation and storytelling, we sow seeds of empathy every day.

Our lives look quite different now then they did a year ago.

Today I’m living in Greensboro, working at a company I started. At Wonder Media Network we use audio storytelling to inspire action, to promote equality and justice, and to introduce empathy into politics, business and culture. I host our flagship podcast, Women belong in the House, and on each episode, I get to tell a different story of hope and optimism. I share the voices of women and experts who are leading the way to a more equitable future. In my spare time, I’m talking to strangers about my mom’s campaign and stressing the importance of getting out to vote.

My mom spends her time traveling the gerrymandered district, learning and connecting with the people she hopes to represent in Washington D.C. She meets people where they are: small businesses, barbecue festivals, churches, schools, and more. She’s determinedly working to make our city, our country, and our world a better place.

Our country desperately needs change. As I discover the stories of more incredible women like my mom who are stepping up — check out Abigail Spanberger, Lauren Underwood, and Tabitha Isner, to name a few — I’m constantly reminded of their humanity. As my family gets hit by a seemingly unending barrage of brutal, lying campaign ads against my mom, I think of candidates’ families all over the country who are hurting from the same. Politics is personal. Through the pain, through the frustration, in the people I have hope.