Afshan running as ‘voice’ of underrepresented

LA MESA SPECIAL ELECTION: On Nov. 2 La Mesa will hold a special election to fill the vacancy left by former councilwoman Akilah Weber

Mejgan Afshan

Mejgan Afshan is a La Mesa resident running against five other candidates in a special election to fill the La Mesa City Council seat formerly held by Akilah Weber, who departed to serve in California State Assembly District 79. There is about one year left in the term and the seat will be up for re-election in November 2022.

Afshan, 42, is co-founder of non-profit civil rights activist group Borderlands for Equity as well as the founder of East County Justice Coalition. Her previous government experience includes working as an aide for then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, as a staff aide to Nancy Pelosi, on the Francine Busby for Congress campaign, for the San Diego County Democratic Party, on the International Rescue Committee, and with the Council on American-Islamic Relations San Diego.

“I am a civil rights advocate and was a legal observer at the La Mesa protest on May 30. Watching it unravel was really devastating. I grew up across the street from the police station, going to the old library with my little sister. Watching law enforcement go to the roof and disperse tear gas… I didn’t think people should be treated that way and when I found out that Dr. Weber had won her seat in the Assembly District, I considered it might be time to run for city council,” Afshan said.

In describing what she would prioritize as a city council member, Afshan speaks from a group perspective, representing, she said, campaign supporters, community leaders, and longtime La Mesa residents of diverse backgrounds.

“Our top priority is bringing more equity within city council— it’s important to understand that equity doesn’t happen overnight, it doesn’t happen with one resolution or policy, it doesn’t happen with one vote or election, whether it be making sure we fulfill our climate action goals for 2035, expand wraparound services for houseless siblings, or provide more funding for our police oversight board to continue using independent auditors,” Afshan said.

She would “love to implement our first cultural competency training and cultural sensitivity training, not just with the La Mesa Police Department but also across all city of La Mesa offices,” and said it is important for everyone to learn how to engage and communicate with all community members.

If elected, a second priority would be to find a permanent home for a proposed La Mesa library.

Third, she would like to help develop a first-time homebuyers program.

She attended Helix High School, Grossmont College, then returned to live in La Mesa and considers the city home and would like homeownership to be within everyone’s reach.

“A first-time homebuyers program would be an amazing resource. I have three different groups of friends who have tried to secure a permanent home. With children or not, we want to be able to stay in La Mesa. Making sure we have equitable access to affordable housing is critical to our community. If there are people like me who have been working in another state and relocated back, or if they are renting here and can’t find a permanent home, what are we doing here for our residents?” Afshan said.

She returned to the idea that representation is critical and uses her own background as the first Muslim-American to receive San Diego Democratic Party endorsement to illustrate how the city has changed in her lifetime.

“I came as a baby with my parents as refugees after we escaped the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. San Diego county, specifically La Mesa, looks so different compared to when I was a child. When I was 10, 11, 12 every single family was older, white families. Now as I live here, my neighbors are from every single background you could possibly imagine. Asian, South Asian, African American… it is a beautiful community and it deserves more representation,” Afshan said.

The pandemic, she said, revealed “an inequality that has been going on for decades” and representatives need to fight for struggling, working individuals.

“We need voices within city council that represent a progressive voice for people who are struggling,” Afshan said.

Laughing, she said she has no idea why people keep saying she is the ‘young’ vote.

“You don’t have to have children or be married to care about people in the community,” Afshan said.

Whether it was serving in the Democratic party or serving refugees in City Heights and East County, she believes her work history shows she has committed her life to public service, including this run for office during which several people have said they are also interested in running for office.

“I bring 20 years of active progressive change, working in collaboration with a diverse cross-section of the community. Anything I’ve done before will help me as I serve the community. It takes all types of people to run a city like La Mesa. So many people who have never worked on a campaign volunteered, have engaged with us— we want to continue that process of working in coalition, collaborating with the community,” Afshan said.

Each day she takes time to walk La Mesa and introduce herself, she said, and is surprised by how many people have never met a city council candidate.

“It has been a pleasure getting to meet so many different people in La Mesa, hearing them. I’ve committed my life to serving those who cannot speak for themselves. If elected, I hope my legacy is about creating a more equitable and safer community. I look forward to communities of color rising up,” Afshan said.

Afshan running as ‘voice’ of underrepresented