Lincoln's reelection meant the union was worth fighting for. Franklin Roosevelt's was a rejection of Hoover's conservatism. Kennedy marked a new era in politics. Reagan marked the ascendancy of the conservative movement.
But what does the election of Barack Obama mean?
Books and doctoral thesis will be written on the topic. Conferences will be held at Harvard that are covered by C-SPAN. But here is a list to think about.
1. Justice is righteous. The first and most obvious meaning is that if you screw up the country in such a catastrophic way that hurts people's lives the country will rise up and kick your ass out of office.
2. America has changed. A new governing progressive majority has emerged. It is made up of young and old, rich and poor, white and people of color. Cities united with suburbs. AMERICA elected Obama. Not swing white voters in southeastern Ohio or single women in the suburbs of Philadelphia. This majority was made up of everybody. This point will get lost since there is no constituency group for "everybody."
3. Young people can change the world. Even while no one group owns the victory it is clear that young people played an historic role in this win. A new generation will be inspired to change the world.
4. The movement will grow. Thousands of organizers have been trained and instilled with confidence. They will spin off and help organize social movements in their own communities. Some will run for office--and maybe one will become a community organizer and someday run for president.
5. Progressive ideas are what Americans want. We went into the election with an alignment between progressives on the Left and more centrist voters. On the big issues--Iraq, the economy, energy and health care. Left and center agree. The war will end. Things will change.
6. The Internet dominates. The Internet has replaced the mainstream media finally as the dominant source of news information and fact-checking. Thank god because the mainstream media is getting cut to pieces. HuffingtonPost has created a mega-force--it is now among the top most visited news websites on the Internet. You can't lie to the public and get away with it. The "series of tubes" will get you.
7. Politics can be sexy. John McCain didn't inspire artists like Shepard Fairey and Will.I.Am. These artists made the Obama-McCain matchup into a fight between McGrumpy and Jay-Z. Easy choice.
8. The 1960s are over. As Andrew Sullivan wrote, the fights of the 1960s over hippies and cultural populism are losing their potency. The Right has lost their ability to hijack our politics--for now.
9. People power can make a difference. Volunteers can make a difference. I heard a story about a field organizer in part of Colorado with a universe of 38,000 voters to turn out--and 1,500 volunteers. An amazing coverage of one volunteer for 25 voters.
10. We can be inspired. A message about Hope, Progress and Change can lift us up and appeal to our better angels. As Barack Obama says, "One voice can change the world."
But "meaning" is a big term. So let the debate begin. Add what Obama's win means for you in the comments.
On a personal note, Obama's win and the gains in the House and Senate is the culmination of long and hard fight for me as an organizer. I've spent the last 8 years battling the Republicans and the far Right with MoveOn.org and others. Finally, I can unclench the fists and put my hands to work changing the world. That is a personal meaning. I look forward to it.