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13 Lessons About Social Justice From "Harry Potter"

The wizarding world can teach Muggles a thing or two about how to fight for the common good.

1. The personal is political.

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There's no better way to understand how something affects society as a whole than to feel its implications on an individual level. Harry's personal struggles are what make him such an effective agent for social change in the series. He lost his parents, godfather, and mentor all at the hands of Voldemort. Since he feels the impact of these issues so personally, it’s easier for him to see how they translate into larger political agendas.

2. Check your privilege.

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Harry selflessly devoted his life to the cause of defeating Voldemort and the betterment of society, but he was well aware of all the tools and resources he had because he was "the boy who lived." The surplus of gold his parents left in his Gringotts vault, special gifts like the Invisibility Cloak and Marauder’s Map, and his famous reputation all aided him in achieving his goals. These major advantages weren’t available to other characters, but Harry was always conscious of his privileges.

3. Work with people you trust.

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There needs to be an element of assurance and reliability between people who organize together for justice. Dumbledore trusts Snape, Harry trusts Dumbledore, and everyone else trusts Harry; there’s clearly a trickle-down effect in who others have confidence in. It’s important to know who you can count on in dark times when everything seems bleak.

4. People in power aren't necessarily in the right.

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Those who are in charge of major institutions don’t always have others’ best interests at heart. The Ministry of Magic had its own, secret agenda before it was even infiltrated by Death Eaters, and at one point Dolores Umbridge had run of Hogwarts and its students. It’s not always safe to assume that those in positions of power automatically do the right thing.

5. Avoid blind allegiance.

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Never follow leaders without question, no matter what they claim to stand for. The witches and wizards who don’t challenge Voldemort only make it easier for him to rise to more power. The Death Eaters obey every last order from Voldemort and remain eternally loyal despite his intentions. It isn't until the very end of Deathly Hallows that the Malfoy family comes to their senses and walks away from the Battle of Hogwarts. Just because someone with conviction dictates what they want you to do, you shouldn’t follow them blindly.

6. You can’t accomplish everything alone.

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While Harry was labeled the “chosen one" and often takes matters into his own hands, he wouldn't have been able to ultimately defeat Voldemort without the help of so many others. He looked to figures like Dumbledore and Sirius for guidance, was shown unconditional love and support from the Weasleys and other Order of the Phoenix members, and Harry also heavily relied on Hermione and Ron to fill in the gaps (and even destroy a few Horcruxes). Social justice and fighting for what's right doesn't take just one person alone — it's very much a group effort.

7. News sources aren’t always accurate.

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The Daily Prophet intentionally portrays Harry and Dumbledore negatively so the rest of the wizarding world doesn’t trust their word. As you continue on the path to fighting for what’s right, it's important to be a critical consumer of mass media and not just believe everything you read in the news. All human beings have bias, and reporters aren’t any different; they can also be influenced by their own experiences and surroundings.

8. People are often products of their environment.

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No one is born with a particular set of beliefs and opinions; as individuals, we all operate within the systems that shape us and affect our eventual outcomes. Tom Riddle was shaped by a number of experiences before he transformed himself into Lord Voldemort, from the orphanage that raised him to the problematic social norms that drove his Muggle father away from his witch mother, and even his experience in Slytherin house. He didn’t come up with his dark plans for the wizarding world all on his own.

9. Do your research.

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In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where others have been. Hermione is especially good at reading into the past and understanding important histories so that the group is aware of others’ successes and failures. The more information you know, the better off you’ll be. It’s crucial to have full context.

10. Injustices operate within systems.

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Inequalities and evils aren’t just isolated incidents, nor do they come about by coincidence. Discrimination against house-elves, Muggle-borns, and half-bloods occurs because of the social structures that exist in the wizarding world. Other instances of injustice — like professor Umbridge’s “disciplining” of students and how Hagrid is treated as a giant — are evidence of greater systems perpetuating different kinds of oppression.

11. Follow your own moral compass.

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It’s not easy to stand up for what you know is the right thing, but trusting your gut feeling is the key to being an advocate for social change. Even if your opinion is unpopular, like Hermione creating the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, that doesn’t make it any less just. We all have instincts for a reason, and more often than not your own moral compass won’t steer you wrong.

12. Never give up.

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Revolutionizing the way societies operate and shifting political discourse is never a simple task — there are plenty of hardships that change-seekers come up against along the way. Harry, Ron, and Hermione encountered a number of difficulties since the beginning of their adventures and the wizarding world had to go through two wars before finally defeating Voldemort for good, but they remained resilient through it all and triumphed in the end.

13. Love is the most powerful tool you have.

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One of the major themes in the entire series, love plays an essential role in overcoming the worst kinds of evil. It is a universal emotion that all human beings (and wizards) can relate to in one way or another, and is a major driving force behind social change. Love is strong enough to inspire Narcissa Malfoy to protect Harry against Voldemort because she wanted to know her son was safe and motivates characters like Fred Weasley to voluntarily sacrifice their lives for the greater good. Most importantly, it gives characters something worth fighting for. The world knows no greater force.

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