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.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

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.

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    Bob Nelson
    Bob Nelson subscribermember

    I am fairly disgusted with this commentary by a person I otherwise admire. It seems to say that Mickey Kasparian should resign as head of the local AFL-CIO so we can give him a trial before we hang him. Whatever happened to letting courts decide the lawsuits that have been filed before we all start guessing who is telling the truth, and who is not? 

    If Mickey Kasparian has done bad things, then depositions and evidence will prove him culpable, destroying his career as one of the most important labor leaders in California, and costing him a fortune in legal fees and damages. Unlike a criminal case, it won't take long to find out, as depositions under oath can start almost immediately.

    It is not clear why either this author or some of the other commentators are so quick to decide that where there is smoke there is fire. Sometimes it is not even smoke -- it's just fog. 

    Councilman Mike Zucchet was included in a 2005 Federal indictment for Cheetah-gate. Those of us who know Mike knew that it was impossible for Boy Scout Mike Zucchet to ever take a bribe or do anything dishonorable. So while others tsk-tsked about how shocked and disappointed they were at Mike's supposed crime, some of us waited for the evidence to be presented. Funny thing, no evidence ever materialized because Mike never did anything wrong. Still, he was swept up in the apparently guilty company of Ralph Inzunza and the jury found Mike guilty by association, not by deed. 

    In one of the truly courageous and honorable actions I've ever seen in a courtroom, Judge Jeffrey T. Miller threw out the faulty convictions and Mike was was again exonerated on appeal. (As a side note, Judge Miller last month brokered the deal for Donald Trump to pay $25 million to students cheated by Trump University.)

    2,500 years ago Sun Tzu wrote, “Wheels of justice gind slow but grind fine.” I suggest everyone chill out and let the courts do the job intended for them. That isn't disrespectful of the women who claim they have been mistreated -- it is just asking that we honor the presumption of innocence until and unless charges have been either proved or disproved. 


    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Kasparian's attacks on women and David Alvarez are unacceptable to local progressives and barrio gente like myself. He set us back by supporting pushover Myrtle Cole and handing the council over to Republicans and corporate Democrats. Now with these Filner-esque accusations coming to light he has cast shame on labor as a whole. Local labor and Dems need a housecleaning and I'm handing out brooms.

    Bruce Higgins
    Bruce Higgins subscriber

    I do not know if the allegations in the lawsuits against Mr. Kasparian are true or not.  I do know that this has brought to light the dirty secret of labor nationwide.  Labor unions often treat their own people, both those who work for the union and their members, worse than any company would ever dare.  The idea a discipline in a labor union often crosses the line of acceptable behavior.  Speak out at a union hall meeting against the wrong thing or too forcefully, and you are liable to find your car keyed and or tires flattened.  God help you if you cross a picket line during a strike because you have to feed your family.

    Unions now account for less than 10% of the workforce nationwide everywhere except for government.  The reason the number is that high is because most contracts contain an 'exclusive bargaining' clause which requires union membership to work there.  Unions charge outrageous initiation fees and membership dues and give no value to their membership.  Their dues are used to support causes that many members do not agree with.  This has been subject to numerous lawsuits and resulted in 'opt out' clauses.  Good luck trying to opt out of paying dues.  The upshot of all of this is that when people are given the free choice of union membership or not, they overwhelmingly vote with their feet and leave.

    The existing labor movement has passed the point of no return.  They have forgotten there reason for being, they chased money and power, to the detriment of their members.  It is time for a new labor movement that will respect its people, that will help them succeed, that realizes that in today's environment you cannot freeze in amber, business conditions and that contracts need to be designed to accommodate that. A labor movement that is willing to open its books to its membership, who after all finance its operations.  A labor movement that will be sorely needed in the coming four years, to advocate for the working person in what will probably be a hostile environment.  It is time for a fresh start.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    So the assumption of innocence goes out the door if the accusation is about women being mistreated?

    evidently so.

    Lori Saldana
    Lori Saldana subscribermember

    It takes tremendous courage to openly discuss this type of harassment and intimidation. I admire the bravery of the women who have filed these claims, and thank them for speaking up. 

    I wish them strength and healing as they go forward. 

    Sara_K subscribermember

    I cannot fathom the mindset of those who readily supported women making accusations regarding Bob Filner and, more recently, Donald Trump (among Democrats, Republicans, and those with no political affiliation) but who are now choosing silence regarding Naranjo’s and Vasquez’s litigation.

    WHY are you implying these brave women are lying with your silence? It's disgusting. 

    You were either politically motivated previously, or you're afraid now, or you actually do not care about the conditions these women have publicly stated they have endured.