By JEFF CLEMETSON
Mejgan Afshan has a long resume of campaign work, but is now taking that experience and applying it to her own run for the open La Mesa City Council seat on a platform of equity and social justice.
Afshan and her family — refugees from Afghanistan — moved to La Mesa when she was in fifth grade. She attended La Mesa Middle and then Helix High School where she began an interest in public events as news editor of the Highland Fling. After high school, she attended Grossmont College where she was a member of the school parliamentary debate team.
Afshan transferred to San Francisco State University where she majored in international relations. During her last semester, she started interning for then Mayor Gavin Newsom. When the internship ended, she was hired by Newsom’s office as a confidential aide. After her stint working for the mayor’s office, she went to work in the San Francisco congressional office of Nancy Pelosi as a staffer.
“Then she transferred to Madame Speaker of the House and I was there through that transition and it was really phenomenal,” she said, adding that the experience wasn’t all good as she had to answer calls to the office that were sometimes “really vile” and “vitriolic” against the new Speaker. “Now it seems like a million years ago but it was a big deal to have a woman shatter the glass ceiling and especially a woman of her rank to do so at that time in the country’s history and really change how people think about women in politics in general I think and women in places of leadership in our country.”
Afshan returned to San Diego and worked as a field director for the 2008 slate of Democrats running in San Diego County. “That year there were around 120 candidates that ran throughout San Diego County and incredibly the party and our field team helped support the party and all of them won. And that is what helped turn San Diego County blue for the first time [in a long time].”
After working for a few more political campaigns, Afshan put political campaigns on hold to pursue a new direction — working as an International Rescue Committee (IRC) readiness trainer helping refugees from war torn countries in the Middle East and Africa and Asia.
“I ended up finding my passion by going back to my roots and started to work with refugees,” she said.
After the IRC, she went to work in the advocacy and public policy department at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Diego. “That’s where I did work pushing back against the Muslim ban and making sure that we were an inclusive and welcoming country,” she said.
In 2020, Afshan left CAIR and co-founded Borderlands for Equity a — pro bono civil rights nonprofit focused on creating advocacy and education around issues in the immigrant community and legal representation for those experiencing discrimination.
Through Borderlands for Equity, Afshan ended up doing work that would inspire her current run for City Council: being a legal observer during the May 30 protest at the La Mesa Police Department.
“That experience, watching people get tear gassed and seeing rubber projectiles and people scattering in this complete mayhem, something was triggered in me that we have to do better by people in La Mesa and do better as a community on the local level,” she said, adding that she wants to see the community be more equitable on the local level. “I never considered running for office before because I’m a very straight person, a very transparent person, a very direct person, actually not very political even though my resume would say otherwise. I believe in being who you are, stating what you need and getting the job done.”
Afshan describes her campaign as “based on an equitable policy platform,” especially in regards to environmental justice and housing justice.
“We want to be able to make equitable changes across the board,” she said. “[Environmental degradation] absolutely impacts the most marginalized and underrepresented people of our community — our Black and Brown siblings in La Mesa — so I think it’s critical to make sure we are doing as much as we can to not just fulfill our Climate Action Plan goals for 2035, but also improve them to where we can really be able to have a sustainable impact on changing the direction of our environment.”
To make housing more equitable in La Mesa, Afshan supports the creation of a first-home-buyer initiative.
“With all the housing that’s going to be built in La Mesa, we must be able to ensure that there is a larger percentage of affordable homes for low-income families to be able to secure in these new spaces,” she said. “You can build all the homes in the world but if there’s not equitable access to affordable housing, how are people that are struggling going to be able to really move in? How are they going to be able to secure a safe home?”
Afshan’s platform also includes support for a new library and said she will work with the new library task force in securing a new location and funds to build it.
“Our community needs and deserves better,” she said. “Libraries are one the rare spaces to this day that don’t require you to purchase anything to just be in public, so we want to make sure we secure a permanent home for our La Mesa Public Library.”
Afshan is a strong proponent of police reform in La Mesa and wants to empower the auditor with investigative authority in the new Oversight Committee and ensure its funding.
“For those of us who grew up in La Mesa and are from La Mesa, we don’t want our community to be known as this terrible place where these incidents happen and nothing else good comes of it,” she said. “We want to be able to turn the page on what has already happened and these racial justice issues will continue to plague our community if we do not make sure our police oversight board has teeth. If we don’t hold [police who discriminate] accountable, then who will?”
When it comes to the city’s role in responding to the pandemic, Afshan said the city should secure equitable vaccine and test kit access in community; and would defer decisions on shutdowns and mask mandate policies to county health officials.
For more information about Mejgan Afshan, visit www.votemejgan2021.com.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.