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Organized groups are the force behind activism. In the final installment of Harry Potter lessons in social justice organizing, Chris Crass explores what we can learn from Dumbledore’s army.
Dumbledore’s Army and the role of organization
As members of Dumbledore’s Army trained during one of their underground Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, Harry boldly declared, “Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more then what we are now: students. If they can do it, why not us?”
Today, as we look back at the great leaders of our social justice movements — Ida. B. Wells, William Lloyd Garrison, Malcolm X and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn — we can get awe-struck and place them on pedestals to be idolized rather than draw inspiration from their example to become extraordinary ourselves.
One of the dynamics of looking at outstanding and inspiring individuals is that the narratives of their lives take them outside of the organizations that helped support them along the way. So we hear about Rosa Parks as the middle-aged woman too tired to move to the back of the bus, rather then Rosa Parks the revolutionary who was the secretary of the local NAACP who, just a few months before her history-changing action, had gone through non-violent direct action training at the Highlander Center and had made a commitment to utilizing what she had learned.
Furthermore, groups like the Women’s Political Council were looking for a spark to catalyze the movement locally and helped organize the Black community within 24 hours of Park’s arrest.
Through the student-formed underground practice sessions of Dumbledore’s Army (DA), a cadre of young witches and wizards became skilled with spells, deepened their commitment to fight the right and created a thriving community of comrades who encourage and support one another. The DA created a space for collective praxis to emerge. Praxis is the process of putting ideas into action and then drawing out lessons from the experience.
As Harry said earlier, none of the other students had the experience of going up against Voldemort. They only had lessons learned in a classroom. Praxis is taking the lessons from the practice sessions into a fight against the Death Eaters, which is exactly what happened when Hermione, Ron, Harry, Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood faced the Death Eaters in the Ministry of Magic.
Leadership is born of values joined with experience and that is why it is no coincidence that Ginny, Neville and Luna became the primary leaders of the DA when Hermione, Ron and Harry went underground and Hogwarts was taken over by the forces of Voldemort.
Leadership is a dynamic process that draws on people’s backgrounds and experiences, but also relies on the choices and actions people take. Furthermore, leadership is usually developed through the support, encouragement and teaching of others.
While some of us as individuals will receive this leadership development, organizations routinely provide spaces for more of us to have our leadership developed. Leadership matures through practice and again where Harry, Hermione and Ron have amply opportunities to practice their leadership, it is the DA that creates opportunities for a more and more people to practice and mature.
For example, Ginny’s leadership was certainly rooted in being raised in a working class family guided by Left values and a practice of solidarity — earning them the label “blood traitors” from right-leaning families. Ginny’s parents are both in the Order from the early days and nearly all of her siblings becoming members of either the Order or the DA.
It is, however, through her participation in the DA that Ginny moved from being a supporter of the Left to being a leader in the fight against Voldemort. The DA created an entry point, and she found support to develop her magical power and take action.
Or look at Neville. He could have easily been dismissed as a nice enough person, but hardly a revolutionary; yet in the end, Neville is the courageous leader who declares that the struggle continues even when it seems as though Voldemort has killed Harry.
Similarly, Luna was a weirdo outsider, who was routinely mocked. She quickly becomes one of Harry’s most important advisors, regularly giving him critical insights and direction. One of Harry’s gifts as a leader, is that he not only listened to her, but actively courted her friendship. However, it is through the DA that Luna’s “think outside the box” perspective is able to help shape the overall liberation struggle as she too becomes a core leader who keeps hope alive during Voldemort’s rule.
Another important dimension of organization and collective efforts in general, is that they can, if we are willing, open space for more and more people to play important roles. This is particularly important for Ron and Harry.
In the early years, Ron grew increasingly jealous of Harry’s public persona and popularity. At the same time, Harry became, at times, self-centred. This often happens in our social justice work. Ego, jealously and rivalry can often hurt our efforts and destroy relationships.
As the DA took form, Ron was able to play important public roles bringing others into the group. Harry and Ron were both able to mature past their squabbles and focus on the larger goals of their efforts. As they began to pay attention to the needs of the dozens of students in the DA who were hungry for leadership and opportunities, Ron and Harry let go of petty grudges and exaggerated hurts.
The truth is, leadership, organization, collective efforts for liberation, are all deeply challenging and we need our friends and comrades. Harry and Ron need each other, not just because they are stronger together against Voldemort, but because the love of our family, friends and communities is the magic of life and that love is what makes facing the challenges so rewarding.
At the end of the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore challenges everyone at Hogwarts to “Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”
Social justice organizations and communities, from the National Domestic Workers Alliance to the Harry Potter Alliance, help us support each other to do what is right, rather than what is easy. They help us live our values and develop grassroots power to fight the Voldemorts in our world and help us expand justice and equality for all.
It is important to join collective efforts, support them, work alongside them and help create an ecosystem of social justice organizations, institutions, communities, crews, families and relationships that form movements that can win.
The magic of taking action for social justice
In closing, let us learn from Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore, Ginny and Neville. Let us learn from the Order and from the DA. And let us bring forward the magic of social justice organizing to liberate us from the Voldemorts in the world and in our heads.
Let us cast our Patronus charm, vanquish the Dementors, and be in our power. Let us come together with others to build grassroots movements, build up liberation organizations, take direct action, sing and dance together and love with all our hearts. Let us create magic together and act courageously from a place of love for collective liberation.
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Thank you to my lovely team of fellow Order of the Phoenix 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 www.chriscrass.org.
Photo: flickr/Eli Christman