Bernie Takes Osaka

★ ★ ★ ★




By Tom Foley

In 1972, when I was just 11, I went door to door for the liberal Democrat George McGovern. He was running against Richard Nixon, the Republican president reviled by young people for the Vietnam War. Nixon won by a landslide. Because only Massachusetts broke for McGovern, we became a national laughingstock, at least until Nixon was impeached. Other setbacks followed; but it was Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, just after I began college, and the subsequent rise of the neocons, that snuffed my activism altogether. It seemed America would continue its decline with or without me. Not feeling particularly patriotic or sentimental, I pulled up stakes and re-settled in Japan, where I have been busy building a business for the last twenty years.

Unexpectedly, my political dormancy has come to an abrupt end. Like a comet of doom bearing down on us, the spectacle of the 2016 American presidential election is impossible for anyone to ignore. Even in faraway Japan it grips us all in gobsmacked horror. Believe me, Americans living abroad feel the same suffocating angst at the sight of this disgraceful travesty as the rest of the international community, maybe more so. After all, we expatriates are on the front lines. From dinner parties in Sao Paolo to pubs in Helsinki, we are the ones who have to explain this slow-motion trainwreck to our international friends. While our domestic cousins can get away with consoling and deluding one another, expats are left shivering nakedly when the tatters of national dignity are torn away.

I was genuinely optimistic when Obama first took office, but nearly eight years on, I am still glumly waiting for all the change he promised. Having seen that the political establishment is intent on sanctioning yet another round of phony candidates for this year’s election, and kicking the can down the road yet again, I have lost patience.

The pot has boiled over for others, too. Millions of party outsiders from both ends of the spectrum are in open revolt and their cries for real choices are at last being answered. In addition to flushing out some of the most repugnant characters ever to cross the national stage, this election has produced, maybe for the first time in my lifetime, a candidate whose integrity and commitment to reform is beyond all doubt. The choice couldn’t be more stark. Americans must choose, not the lesser of two evils, but between political salvation and utter damnation. I am probably a little too comfortable and too old to be gushing like this, but it seems to me the revolution has finally come, and there is no way I can sit this election cycle out. We may not win, but I know on which side I belong, and I will not let a chance to set things right go by without a fight.

My man is the Independent senator from Vermont and Brooklyn’s answer to Gandalf, Bernie Sanders. Bernie is running as a Democrat, but he is clearly not the favourite of the Democratic Party or the corporate media. I chose Bernie after seeing videos of him haranguing Congress decades ago with the same timeless message he spouts today. He’s the real thing. Bernie marched with Martin Luther King and he has been fighting for social justice ever since. Nobody can impugn his integrity, though God knows they’ve tried.

Bernie’s position is that corporations have hijacked politics and are spoiling the American Dream—we’d be better off with a system like Denmark’s. He wants to get the money out of politics, reign in the banks, bring our troops home, and restore prosperity and justice for all. The unwavering idealism of this lovable curmudgeon draws huge crowds of young people, while his dauntless flouting of the political establishment appeals to cynical outsiders like myself. Bernie can win, because unlike other candidates he really has a vision, and people trust him. Corny as it sounds, he is proving through the unlikely miracle of his own crowd-funded campaign that if we dream big we can accomplish great things together. For me, it is Bernie or bust.

My part in this election has been small; but I guess that’s the way it is supposed to be. After I donated to his campaign, I decided to host an independent rally at my wife’s clam shack across from the Osaka Stock Exchange. I quickly discovered that only a handful of the expats I know are American, and fewer still, being mainly business people, are of a revolutionary stripe. So, I advertised on Facebook and let Bernie speak for himself. For about one hundred dollars, I carpet-bombed English speakers in Western Japan with positive campaign releases to offset the biased coverage Bernie was receiving in the national media. I also supplemented the news feed with snarky humour disparaging his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

By the day of the Democratic Party primary, I had signed up nearly twenty fellow Sandernistas for the rally. A feisty group of students, teachers, and professionals turned out. Most of them were quite young, but there were even some retirees. We had little in common beside the shared conviction that Bernie is our country’s last and best hope. But we marched together to the poll and cast our votes. I am proud to say, in a trend being repeated around the globe, that Osaka crushed it 117 to 10 for Bernie. Today, as I stand on the barricades, my heart still banging from that small victory, the one thing on my mind is that I hope my fellow Americans don’t blow it. This time they could get the leader they deserve.

Tom Foley is an American-born engineer and AI technologist, now living in Japan with his wife and son. He is the founder and CEO of Silver Egg Technology, an internet services company, and is fond of sailing, cheese, and independent film.