I don't know about you, but I grew up on a steady diet of Harry Potter books, movies and merchandise. I've been hoping for a Hogwarts acceptance letter since before I knew that college acceptance letters were even a thing that mattered. I was always the kind of fan who would have joined Dumbledore's Army in a heartbeat, and so were many of my friends. Now, after the American election has ended and Donald Trump is President-elect, I see a lot of inspirational quotes from the books popping up on social media about fighting the oppression and prejudice that his administration is likely to inflict upon people who are already marginalized. A lot of them deal with not losing hope in the face of adversity, which is a sentiment I certainly agree with, but posting quotes without doing anything else isn't going to get us through the next four years.
So for all the Potterheads out there who have ever felt like joining Dumbledore's army, for all of us who felt sad, disempowered, even devastated on election night, here are seven things we can do during the next four years to keep our country moving in a more accepting direction — even if it feels like Voldemort has won.
1. Start 'em young.
Talk to your younger friends and relatives. Reassure the younger people in your life who might be scared about their futures as a result of the election results. Reiterate the importance of accepting those different from ourselves, of not existing in an echo chamber of identical opinions, of always working towards progress. Explain to them that it's possible to fight bigotry and win.
2. Pay attention to the writing on the wall.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there's been a significant increase in hate crimes and racist graffiti since election night. As people who grew up internalizing the values of rejecting xenophobia and fighting against hate, we can't just be passive bystanders when it manifests in our daily lives. If your campus is one afflicted by such incidents, don't just ignore the sometimes-literal writing on the wall. Call out racist, homophobic, prejudiced or hateful behavior when you see it. Take a tip from Harry, and don't let Ginny's skeleton (i.e. racism, homophobia, prejudice, hate, etc.) lie in the Chamber forever. Remember, Voldemort got a lot of his power from people refusing to say his name — call racist behavior racist, call hate speech hateful and call Voldemort Voldemort. Tiptoeing around the issue isn't going to do anything about it.
3. Don't lose hope.
I know I just said that inspirational quotes alone can't change much, but that doesn't mean you should abandon all efforts to cheer yourself up. Evil wins when good loses the energy to keep fighting — Dementors deplete people of joy until their souls are completely gone. It's important to stay informed, but if your social media feeds are negatively affecting your mental health, it's okay to follow a few more cute kitten accounts than you usually would. If your mental health is being seriously affected by current events, it's worth checking out your campus health facilities for the appropriate care. Many colleges have on-site counseling services, and the fees involved are often included in the tuition you already pay.
4. Put your name into the Goblet of Fire.
This one is for all of the 17 year olds out there: I know it hurts to have been so close, but unlike voting, there is no age limit on activism. Your high school can be a place of inclusion and acceptance if it isn't already. Does your school have a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance)? How about any environmentalist groups? Is your school administration doing everything it can to address incidents of hate speech and action among the student body? If not, put pressure on them to do so. Write letters to the editors of your school paper — or join it as a writer. Join or start clubs that work to address the problems that enable hateful ideologies to persist. You have the power to make your school a better place.
5. Actually join Dumbledore's Army.
There is no better place to get involved in activism than a college campus. There's a group for everything, and if the cause you're passionate about doesn't already have a student organization to fight for it, it's usually pretty easy to start one. Find out when and where they meet, and if you're nervous about getting involved this late in the academic year, bring a like-minded friend with you for moral support! If you can't get involved in a formal organization on campus, you can also find out who your elected representatives are, call them every time an issue you're passionate about is up for a vote and let them know exactly what you think. Action is the best defense against the dark arts of prejudice.
6. Engage in some introspection.
Just as Dumbledore used his Pensieve to extract and examine his thoughts, so should you take the time to reflect on your own internal biases and the unintentional ways in which you might be contributing to the problems you're trying to defeat. Do some research on your (gasp!) privilege and how you might be benefiting from the systems that so often disadvantage others. Then, do some research on how you can use that privilege to lift up and amplify the voices of those who are marginalized by the social structures that might have been built in your favor. And after all that research, make sure to implement it into your daily life!
7. Remember that the problem is multifaceted.
Voldemort had multiple Horcruxes, and the evil he stood for presented itself in multiple ways. Most times, you just can't fight every fight, all day, every day. Remember that you are not the only person hurting because of this, remember that you are not the only person fighting for a better future. Reach out to your fellow students. Seek and provide support to each other. Harry didn't defeat Voldemort all on his own — he had friends fighting with him, and so do you.
Many of us look at the next four years and see not just the college experience we were all so excited for in high school, but also a deeply uncertain, scary future for both the country and the world. For a large number of us, the lessons we learned from the series we grew up with — lessons of love and acceptance and the importance of fighting for what's right — just became much more real and much more applicable than we ever thought they would be. Fortunately, even if we never did get a Hogwarts letter, there's still a lot we can do make our Muggle world a better place and defeat the Dark Lords who try to take us and our progress down.
Lead Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.