"I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to -- it belongs to you." Barack Obama, November 4, 2008
Welcome to the Obama Revolution, brought to you by Y.O.U.!
The Obama victory was powered by something new: The Y.O.U. Movement. This movement is composed of three integral forces which are shaping the next generation of citizen-driven politics.
Y = Youth: The Obama campaign tapped the civic spirit of the Y Generation (born between 1977 and 1995). Young voters under the age of 30 backed Obama by better than two to one. Gen Y inspired many parents and grandparents to consider Obama, and mobilized their peers and helped get older voters to the polls (the "Florida Schlep" paid off!). The Y Generation has been awakened to politics by the Obama movement, and may well redefine political life during the first half of the 21st century.
O = O politics: O politics begins with Obama's roots as a grassroots organizer mocked by Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani at the GOP convention. The Obama organizing strategy and style of political leadership empowers citizens to act together in small and big ways. The pavement politics of grassroots organizing, married to online "netroots" activism, creates a micro politics accessible to all.
O politics is also about one country unity undivided by base appeals and fear (true 'country first' patriotism). O politics is about one interconnected world where economy, ecology and security binds us together in shared interest. And O politics holds up the circle that connects us as one people living wisely together on a fragile planet.
U = Us: The Power of Us as creators in the age of the Internet was on daily display in the stream of funny and inspiring viral videos for Obama. On a deeper level, Obama tapped the hunger for "Joe Citizen" to be part of something greater than self. "Us Politics" is less about the evils of them and more about the potential of us. We can believe in change that starts with you and me and the amazing difference we can simply make together. Or as Obama said in a nod to Alice Walker: "We are the change we have been waiting for."
The Y.O.U. Movement, reared in the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, came to maturity in 2008. Its potential to transform the nature of daily political life is still to be fully realized in the years ahead.
The key question now is: How can this electoral movement be harnessed to help Obama govern wisely and effectively? President Obama will have an unprecedented "fourth branch of government" of engaged citizens at his disposal. This is a wired and ready base that makes the "vast right-wing conspiracy" of the Clinton years look like a Moose Lodge Club.
"Change you can believe in" must be sustained by the many hands and feet who pedaled this movement. The incoming presidency will need its active base mobilized to fend it from sustained attack from those seeking to delegitimize its sweeping mandate for change.
The other side of our watchdog role is to insure that the new Administration keeps true to its stated ideals of bringing real change to Washington and to "Main Street". Unfortunately, the arc of presidencies does not bend towards greater justice and equality, nor towards changing the ways of doing the "people's business". The corruptions of power eat away daily as the will for change is negotiated and inevitably compromised.
The Obama presidency may get bogged down by the enduring financial crisis and Middle East/South Asian mess. It could get sideswiped by events that have doomed many a presidency. In the hope of bringing the country together and searching for a national consensus, the Obama team may shy away from the kind of bold thinking and visionary action (think of an "American Gorbachev") willing to confront powerful and profitable interests that need to be overcome. Will Obama be able to think and lead beyond the tested playbooks of the old Washington hands being brought on board to run the show?
The list of what may not be can grow depressingly long. The only real way around the many imaginable obstacles and inevitable letdowns is to recognize that real change only BEGINS at the ballot box. "This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change," Obama told us on election night. "It cannot happen without you."
We have much to celebrate on these new days for America, and during the coming season of thanks and gratefulness. But just as our President-elect has little time to lose, we too must continue to act as audacious citizens, cultural creatives and inspired changemakers to make this moment of hope one of real and lasting change!