Jonathan Blazer, Senior Program Officer for the Four Freedoms Fund, shares the most challenging part of working in social justice, what keeps him going and more.
What is the most challenging part of working in social justice?
Periods of retrenchment, where hard won gains are lost and years of apparent progress seems to evaporate before your eyes. In these times I desperately want to believe that the arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice; that over time, people’s life chances we be less constrained by their place and position of birth; and that, in the long run, right will prevail over might. But nothing predetermines these outcomes. Our future is up for grabs and our challenge is to stick with the struggle through times good and bad.
Who has been the most influential role model/hero in your life thus far?
In my early 20’s I had the great privilege to spend a year learning about Bayard Rustin and meeting regularly with some of the people who worked with him most closely and who were his dearest friends. Rustin was a moral visionary and a key figure in many of the most important social movements of the 20th century. Yet he remains an unsung hero who was forced to remain in the shadows by those who feared controversy from close association with a fearless, radical, gay-black-pacifist-socialist. He was far ahead of his time in understanding the relationship between protest and politics, the intersections between different spheres of oppression, and the need to fight for liberation for all.
What fuels your focus on social justice issues?
Give us a peek of Jon outside of the office. What are your favorite things to do when you aren’t at work?
Cooking, singing, playing piano, trail running, spending time with my partner Karen and our 12 year old son Myles. I would also say listening to music but I actually do plenty of that while at work — to help me get through all the emails! After years of fantasizing, I recently took up mountainbiking. Northern California is a spectacular place to learn.
Is working in social justice something you always knew you’d do or is it something you fell into?
I grew up apolitical, in a leafy, conservative New Jersey suburb. When I went off to college I had no idea of the awakening I would soon experience. My freshman year, I took a course that exposed the havoc the United States was wreaking in Central America. I was appalled to learn about our country’s refusal to accept asylum seekers fleeing persecution from wars it had fueled. I had to do something about it, and that summer, I found my way to the first wave of the sanctuary movement, living and working for three months at a refugee camp cooperatively run by Central American asylum seekers in the Rio Grande Valley. About a week into the experience I realized I had found my life’s work.