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Jaz Martus: An Old Soul With Progressive Ideals

I met JM Kennedy Democrats President Jasper Martus (friends call him Jaz) in the fall of my freshman year. 

Alone, I was eating in Case Hall with nothing but my thoughts and left Airpod (the other which I lost in astronomy class). 

Jaz approached me and asked if he could eat with me. Surprised by his warmth in a generation where we seem to prioritize our relationships with social media over our relationships with others, I said yes. 

We immediately clicked, talking about everything from classic rock to politics. A lover of the 1960s, I was excited to share my passion with someone else (The Rolling Stones don’t usually go over well on aux at frat parties).

Jaz possessed a raw charisma, like a modern day JFK. When I spoke, he genuinely listened. He was quietly confident — proud of his accomplishments, but more interested in hearing about mine. 

I was lucky enough to get Jaz to take a few moments out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. He talks about his plans for the JM Kennedy Democrats, finding confidence and his experience attending services for almost all of the world’s religions. 


Talk to me about the JMC Kennedy Democrats. What inspired you to create this group?

Jaz: I have found since I was very young that my calling is to serve in elected office one day. When I arrived at Michigan State, I found other young people passionate about getting involved in the political process. No one can succeed in the political arena on their own. I founded Kennedy Democrats because I saw boundless potential in the young people I have had the privilege to know and befriend and knew that there had to be an organization to harness our energy.

Do the JM Kennedy Democrats have anything exciting coming up?

This is the most consequential election of our lifetimes or any lifetime. Who we are as a nation is on the ballot. Kennedy Dems is working on behalf of Democrats up and down the ballot to ensure a blue wave in November and drumming up a massive mobilization of energized voters. Given that we are in the midst of a pandemic, we are also focused on doing our part to help with Coronavirus relief as well. Our most important initiative right now is partnering with Walk The Vote, which is a national organization that seeks to bring people together, from six feet apart, to march with their ballots to their local dropoff location. We are leading their first ever march in East Lansing. Our work will be a model for the rest of the country.

Many people distrust the government, especially right now. How do you stay confident within your passion? Have you ever had doubts?

For too many people, even the word “politics” conjures images of backdoor deals and bribery, corruption and cronyism. I understand where distrust and doubt stem from because government at all levels has come up short for marginalized groups. When our institutions are not inclusive, those excluded do not feel valued. Politics is important because it is the vehicle by which lives can be made better or worse. We’ve seen politics make lives worse through racial injustice, an economy which does not work for all, and an inept government response to a pandemic which has killed over 210,000 Americans. That is the politics of fear. I believe in the politics of hope. We’ve seen activists from the suffragettes to the freedom riders hold our nation’s feet to the fire on our founding principle: “All men are created equal.” We’ve had leaders who guided us through civil wars and great depressions by embracing our better angels and rejecting fear as a governing principle. Leaders who laid the foundation of a New Frontier or Hope and Change with the expectation that the work would be carried on long after they were gone. We are a country of unlimited potential which I know will leave our world better off than how we found it.

You’ve attended services for many of the world’s religions. What inspired you?

I spent the summer before my senior year in high school attending services for various world religions. During those months, I experienced one of the most intense periods of personal growth in my life and it has informed much of my outlook going forward. My journey was spurred by a genuine interest in the way people communicate with God and how God communicates with them. I wasn’t trying to “shop” for a new religion or doing it for a school project. I was simply seeking to understand.

Has this experience (attending multiple religious services) helped you gain empathy of what it’s like to be a minority?

The two most important qualities a person can have are resilience and empathy. Resilience allows you to know where you have been before and that you’re strong enough to survive whatever you are struggling with now. Empathy gives you the ability to know where others are coming from and help them to get where they are going. The people I prayed, ate and spoke with restored my faith in humanity through their welcomeness and hospitality. The best way to learn about their beliefs was to immerse myself in their rituals and rites. When you are welcomed into a community like I was across religions, you cannot help but feel more connected to your fellow human beings. 

How do you want people to see you?

I do my best to be an agent of change and force for good. I do not know where my path will take me, but the motivation has always been wanting to help others. I want to know that I’m doing all that I can to further the cause of achieving a more just and equitable world. If I continue to say that confidently, then I will not throw away my shot.

Hunter is a journalism student at Michigan State University. With a concentration in broadcast media and a minor in Spanish, she is passionate about storytelling and creating empathy through understanding.
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