Dystopian literature memes have become a popular post-election coping mechanism—and so has the Harry Potter series. Many a tweet has noted the similarities between the evil wizard Voldemort and the xenophobic and racist (just for starters) words and actions of Donald Trump. Some say, however, that comparing current events to a fantasy series trivializes the very real threat posed by the Trump administration.
Literature inspires us and helps us understand our experiences.
Literature inspires us and helps us understand our experiences. But how do we adapt the fictional lessons of the Harry Potter universe to a reality where immigrants and refugees are being targeted with bans and border walls, as many as 18 million people might lose health insurance, and an administration is presenting lies as “alternative facts”?
Moving beyond comforting memes means thinking critically about the Harry Potter series, and taking our next steps not only from what the story does well, but from the ways in which it fails. As a lifelong Harry Potter fan who quite literally grew up with the characters, I’ve learned a lot from J.K. Rowling’s magical universe. And as a Gryffindor, I know a thing or two about taking courageous action.
1. Learn—and then take action
Self-education is a crucial part of social justice organizing—but that education must be put into concrete action. Here, we can look to Dumbledore’s Army for inspiration. The students in this underground group know that spells exist that will help them in their fight. When Professor Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic conspire to prevent them from learning these spells, the students take matters into their own hands by securing a practice space, building trust with each other, and teaching each other the spells they need to defeat Voldemort.
2. Defy authority
From the halls of Hogwarts to the fantastic-beast-infested streets of 1920s New York City, characters across the Harry Potter universe defy those in power. Prime ministers and magical law enforcement alike are frequently exposed as incompetent, corrupt, or bigoted. The difference between the Potterverse and reality is that Trump has a cunning Professor Umbridge in every cabinet position.
Challenge the institutions and individuals that hold power in our society.
But we must also watch out for the Cornelius Fudges, who encourage us to look the other way and pretend things aren’t that bad. They are that bad. And we are required in these times, as in many decades throughout history, to challenge the institutions and individuals that hold power in our society.
3. Collaboration, not figurehead leaders, will win the day
Voldemort is ultimately defeated not by Harry alone, but by the collaboration between the characters who oppose him. Throughout the series, characters besides Harry Potter take leadership in different ways, where their skills are most needed. When students are prevented from practicing defensive spells in the fifth book of the series, Hermione initiates a meeting that leads to the formation of the aforementioned Dumbledore’s Army.
However, Harry Potter is often looked to as a saving force—and this leads to undue reliance on his leadership at the expense of action. I don’t know about you, but I’m not waiting on a prophecy about a magical Trump-defeating baby to join the resistance. We can learn from this unfortunate Potter-worship by sharing skills, distributing power and tasks, and organizing in a way that grows all of us as leaders.
4. Center marginalized voices and struggles
When I reread the books as an adult, I noticed how they were centered around privileged groups. And after watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a friend showed me how this part of the Harry Potter universe does the same. J.K. Rowling’s stories take place in a world where almost all the human characters are White and the oppressed are magical beasts who take second place to the struggle of the straight, cis, able-bodied, White wizards and witches.
Now, you might be thinking: What about Hermione’s passion for house elf freedom? Therein lies the lesson. Hermione, while she has many merits as a strong female character, has a classic White savior complex (although one could argue that Rowling depicts Hermione’s conviction as well-intentioned but misguided). Never once does she ask the house elves what they want, instead imposing her own idea of their liberation onto their lives. For our movements to be successful, they must center, listen to, and support those most impacted by Trump’s policies: people of color, immigrants, LGBT folks, women, and other marginalized groups.
5. Embrace vulnerability
The ability to engage in dialogue, empathize, and be accountable when you’ve caused harm—these qualities are the antithesis of the Trump campaign. Harry Potter and his friends could use some help on this front as well, though. In the seventh book, the search for the Horcruxes is derailed when Ron leaves the group after a misunderstanding that could have been avoided. However, the power of their friendship brings Ron back, and initiates a heart-to-heart that resolves the tension.
Vulnerability, not toughness, will guide us in our actions against Trump.
Vulnerability, not toughness, will guide us in our actions against Trump. And part of being vulnerable lies in building and showing up for your community. The long history of emotional and material support systems created and maintained by cis and trans women and feminine folks is just one example of how vulnerability manifests as resistance.
6. Love is important—in an unexpected way
The word “love” is often presented as a cure-all; if we fight “with love,” we’re told, then nothing can stop us. But this becomes disempowering when exhortations of love are used to enforce respectability politics or used as a substitute for direct action and organizing. When love is invoked this way, it is often used to discourage people from talking about difficult issues or quell actions that confront or disrupt power.
The Harry Potter universe can show us how to use love as a driving force rather than a numbing one: for example, Professor Snape’s love for Lily Potter, which moves him to become a double agent at great personal risk. That kind of love inspires us to take action and sustains us through difficult decisions and painful moments.
In the Harry Potter universe, love is fierce, proactive, and risk-taking. Don’t wait for love to save you. Let it instead inspire you to speak out, build community, and take action in the fight ahead.
Ray Stoeve is a Seattle-based queer and trans writer who received a 2016-2017 Made at Hugo House Fellowship for their young adult fiction.