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We all get engaged in politics for different reasons, but the underlying theme is pretty universal. We want to make the world a better place for our friends, family and our communities. As we trudge through, forks in the road appear. The easy road is not always the right road to take. Sometimes we have to stand up and do the right thing because that is what makes us stand out as leaders. Even if it isn’t the politically expedient thing to do.
Mickey Kasparian is a local San Diego labor leader recently accused by one former employee of more than a decade of sexual harassment and another of gender discrimination and wrongful termination. On Christmas Eve, he posted a note on social media saying he “will not be distracted and will continue to focus relentlessly on improving the lives of working families.” Leaders from all over San Diego made it known that they stand with him and therefore against his alleged victims. That my fellow Democrats can stare into the faces of respected leaders in our community and say, “You don’t matter” is beyond me.
I cannot stay silent. I stayed silent, along with many Democrats, during the former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner scandal despite knowing it was wrong. I saw harassment and mistreatment of women happen during my time in the Navy where a young sailor would make an allegation against someone senior and it would just go away. Women deal with harassment on a daily basis and most just suck it up.
No decent human should tolerate this behavior, and allegations of harassment of abuse must be investigated in an objective and unbiased manner. When public figures are accused, especially those like Kasparian, who, as head of the UFCW Local 135 has the responsibility to fight for working families and publicly prides himself on empowering women of color, they must address them head on. It should not and does not matter whether they are a Democrat, a Republican, a labor leader or an elected official.
There are two women who have filed lawsuits against a prominent public figure. We should, at the very least, let this play out before we pick sides. We should also laud them for their bravery. It takes a lot of courage to come out against a man with such a storied reputation. Local elected officials are afraid to cross him, as are regional labor and party activists. But the issue isn’t about Kasparian or labor. It’s about all of us who claim to stand for the rights of women and can’t even speak of this issue in public for fear of upsetting someone who is supposed to fight on our behalf. Don’t the dues-paying members of the union deserve to know whether their money was used to force sex on a union worker, as alleged in one of the lawsuits? If the union leadership was aware of these alleged wrongdoings, shouldn’t they have investigated the allegations? I would hope that they would demand nothing less of themselves than what they demand from any of the employers for whom their union members work.
Here in San Diego, as in much of the country, Democrats are aligned pretty extensively with labor. Many would say that our party succeeds when labor succeeds. This is why we have to put this issue to bed as soon as possible. With President-elect Donald Trump in the White House, Democrats and labor leaders must focus on fighting for working families, Americans of color, refugees and women.
To those Democrats who wrap themselves in the mantle of women’s rights, yet publicly support the accused: Many of you jumped all over the Filner debacle. Many of you claim to stand up for women and against inequality. Well, where are you? I challenge you to read the lawsuits before you decide where you stand. It’s absolutely possible to simultaneously stand with these women and support working families. It’s also possible to not express solidarity with Kasparian until more facts come out.
Kasparian’s history of fighting tooth and nail for working families speaks for itself and is to be respected. But that’s not the issue at hand. If there is any truth to the allegations against him, Kasparian must step down so that working families of UFCW, the Labor Council and the Democratic Party can heal and continue the fight for progress. If the allegations are not true, I hope Kasparian respects the folks who stood by the accusers because it is the right thing to do, according to the values espoused by our party and the labor movement.
In the meantime, the San Diego Labor Council, UFCW International and the San Diego Democratic Party should continue their fight for equality and demand full internal and public investigations into these allegations. The progressive community mustn’t end up like the Cobbler’s son with no shoes because we were too busy fighting external battles while we crumbled at home.
Shawn VanDiver is a Navy veteran and a lifelong Democrat. He serves on the board of directors for Emerge California. VanDiver’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.