Photo: flickr/David Drexler

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Social movements are tough to build, but when they’re strong, they’re almost impossible to tear apart. In the fourth installment of Chris Crass’s ‘Harry Potter: lessons in social justice organizing,’ we’re taking a look at the way Harry and his compadres keep their movement strong in the face of opposition and oppression.

Hogwarts, the Order of the Phoenix and Building Movement for Justice

Hogwarts is where young witches and wizards are educated and brought into the magical world. It is here they can be who they are, develop their powers and be with peers, friends, teachers and mentors.

Hogwarts, like many schools around the world, is the primary place where new people come into contact with counter-narratives of history, interact with a wider cross section of people than they have before, learn values of equality and democracy and often, through groups like Dumbledore’s Army, have opportunities to join groups putting ideas into action in the world.

While a plurality of ideals exists at Hogwarts — including discriminatory policies against Squibs and non-human magical creatures — the institution is nevertheless deeply influenced by its Headmaster, Dumbledore, a queer, critical educator and a leader of the anti-Voldemort (i.e., anti-imperialist collective liberation-oriented) Order of the Phoenix. Over time, Hogwarts becomes a key site of struggle between the right-wing Death Eaters and the Left.

There are Dolores Umbridge’s efforts to take over Hogwarts to suppress opposition to Voldemort and gut Defense of the Dark Arts classes (i.e., Arizona banning Ethnic Studies classes in conjunction with anti-immigrant legislation designed to disempower working class communities of color). Then Severus Snape takes over as the headmaster under Voldemort’s rule. The struggle over Hogwarts is ultimately a struggle over whose values will shape the common sense understandings of society.

On the eve of the final showdown, the Left retakes Hogwarts as Dumbledore’s Army unites with the Order of the Phoenix and in the struggle for power, everyone, regardless of previous affiliation or neutrality, must decide on which side they stand.

As Professor McGonagall steps forward to defend Harry and vanquish Snape, all the other professors, along with the students in the houses of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, unite behind the liberation movement. In a matter of minutes, with a new united power led by Left forces, the agents of Voldemort in the administration, and student sympathizers in the house of Slytherin, are disempowered, marginalized and removed.

With the neighboring town of Hogsmeade, Hogwarts becomes a bastion of the anti-Voldemort movement, and the power of the institution and its communities — from the stone soldiers to the formerly neutral professors, students and townspeople — are aligned with the Left and in motion to fight back.

Six key lessons emerge for our movement

1. We must assess the institutions in society, determine which ones have the most liberatory potential and actively support efforts to govern them from the Left and marshal their powers to further social justice. Through our work, our values can shape the institutions and influence the common sense understandings in society.

2. We need autonomous Left organizations like the Order of Phoenix to keep us guided by a larger vision, unite people across many institutions and communities with shared values and strategy and take actions beyond the constraints institutional positions have on us.

For instance, Kingsley Shacklebolt must play a limited public role in the fight against Voldemort through his position at the Ministry of Magic, but he is able to share information gathered at the Ministry with the Order of the Phoenix and is able to take action against Voldemort as a member of the Order. And even though he is in the Ministry, Kingsley and the Order prioritize direct action as their primary strategy for change.

3. We need to be mindful of entry points for people to get actively involved in social justice efforts. We should support those entry points with people who have experience and connections in the broader movement, so that when new people come to consciousness about feminism, anti-racism, economic justice, disability justice, queer liberation and so on, they are adequately supported as budding activists.

Schools are hotbed entry points where tremendous national and local student organizations and tens of thousands of fantastic teachers thrive. We need more organizations like the Order of the Phoenix to help connect highly motivated and committed new activists — like Harry, Hermione and Ron — with experienced activists and a larger multigenerational community of social justice thinkers and activists.

4. There will be times, like the battle at Hogwarts or Occupy Wall Street, where large numbers of people, previously uninvolved, will take sides, get involved and fight back. They might not all be involved for the same reasons as the Order, but their involvement is what turns the struggle into a mass movement potentially capable of making the systemic changes for justice we want and need. As we do the day-to-day work of social justice organizing, we must remain nimble in times of mass involvement so that we can be expansive while also helping bring leadership in a new phase of mass participation.

5. There will be divisions among our opposition. Severus Snape’s love for Lily Potter converted him from a being a member of Voldemort’s inner circle, to a key, if not controversial, member of the Order. Draco Malfoy, after years of being Harry’s arch-nemesis, doesn’t turn Harry over to Voldemort at Malfoy Manor. Draco’s mother, Narcissa, boldly protects Harry in the final hour, by lying directly to Voldemort, a move that sets the Death Eaters up for their final defeat. For Snape, it is love for Lily, not the Order and its mission, which converts him. For the Malfoys, the motivation is the realization that Voldemort’s rule will bring misery to their family, despite their shared politics. The lesson is that the hearts of our opposition can change and that a victory is won not just when they agree with our politics, but when in some significant way, they transcend and help us move forward.

6. Social justice organizations like the Order and Dumbledore’s Army are critical as vehicles to put our politics and values into practice, make impacts in the world, bring new people into the movement, pass on history and lessons, provide support and camaraderie to one another and develop vision, strategy and tactics over time, as we refine and learn from our mistakes and successes. 

Come back to tomorrow for part five of Expecto Patronum: Lessons from Harry Potter for Social Justice Organizing. 

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THANKS: Thank you to my lovely team of fellow Order members for their editorial feedback, contributions and help: Rahula Janowski, Nisha Anand, Marc Mascarenhas-Swan, Caroline Picker, Morrigan Belle Phillips, Chris Dixon, April Caddell, Christina Aanestad, Liz Crockett Hixon and Aletha Fields. 

Chris Crass is a longtime social justice organizer and educator and author of Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy.  He is a Unitarian Universalist and dreams of the day when his son, River, is old enough to go to a UU Hogwarts Camp.  For more on his book and work go to    

Photo: flickr/David Drexler