Gandhi. MLK. Mother Theresa. The Dalai Lama. Visionaries whose words and deeds have pointed humanity toward a new way of being in the world. Also, Albus Dumbledore.
Yes, yes. I know what you're thinking: Dumbledore is different than the aforementioned figures because Dumbledore was gay. But that's not the only difference: he's also a fictional character from a popular book series, and being a fictional character, we obviously cannot give him the same stature as individuals who gave (or continue to give) their actual lives to their cause. Yet I believe that not only has Dumbledore's message to the world been inspired by the teachings of these very individuals, but him being fictional does not override the fact that in the hearts of Harry Potter fans across the planet -- myself included -- Dumbledore is very real indeed.
Of course this may sound nuts to those of you not familiar with the Harry Potter fan community, the Harry Potter Alliance, and our new What Would Dumbledore Do campaign. But in my activism, I have learned that in order to win battles, you sometimes have to have sound nuts -- and I'm not just talkin' cajones here. I'm talking about a need for grounded activists who think outside of the box. That, in a nutshell, is Albus Dumbledore.
In just a matter of days, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will come out and (spoiler warning) millions of theatergoers will watch Dumbledore's shocking death and Harry's vow that Dumbledore will live on in those loyal to his spirit. Through our "What Would Dumbledore Do" campaign, tens of thousands of Harry Potter fans are coming together to articulate and celebrate the meaning of being loyal to Dumbledore's spirit. You can check out our innovative three-part campaign that involves Twitter, fans organizing at movie theaters on the night of the movie release, and more at whatwoulddumbledore.org.
Time Magazine and Newsweek have expressed interest in covering our project, but our stance on certain issues, in particularly our support for the Employee Free Choice Act and equal marriage (as echoed by Dumbledore's support for Hagrid to come out of the closet as a giant and house elves right to organize) have attracted the ire of the right wing blogosphere. The bloggers of this realm are lashing out at the Harry Potter Alliance, labeling it as some kind of awful "liberal" propaganda machine -- while overlooking our tremendous success in promoting literacy through book donations (over 13,000 in March including 4,000 to orphans in Rwanda!) and protecting civilians in Darfur and Burma. These are issues that conservatives have often been powerful voices on. I hope that despite our differences that in the future we can work together toward common goals.
I told my friend MC Mr. Napkins about several in the right wing blogosphere calling us a threat to all of human existence, and he let me know that if you rearrange the letters in "The Harry Potter Alliance" it spells, "Care a lot? Try helpin' Earth!" (This just so happens to be the same Mr. Napkins who once used his skills as a wordsmith to help me write a piece for the LA Times about how we could have guessed that Dumbledore was gay: "if you rearranged all of the letters in "Albus Dumbledore" it spells "Male bods rule, bud.") So while some on the right may find it silly, or threatening, for tens of thousands of Harry Potter fans to band together with partner NGO's for human rights and marriage equality, we care about helping the Earth and are doing our best to achieve that end.
Contrary to the claims of my right wing brothers and sisters, the Harry Potter Alliance is not operating from a rigid set of partisan political ideas. Rather, like Dumbledore and like history's greatest visionaries, we strive for our political beliefs to come from something deeper than mere ideology.
Fundamentally, Dumbledore believed on a deep spiritual level that love is our greatest weapon, and this belief is what informed his progressive inclinations toward public policy. As a young man Dumbledore was crushed when his sister had been killed as a direct result of his blind ambition to become a dictator. But, like the Phoenix, out of the ashes of his former self, a new Dumbledore rose, and this new Dumbledore had given up his wish for power over others and instead looked to a power greater than himself.
The Phoenix, which in Harry Potter is a metaphor for the unity between birth and death, was Dumbledore's key to understanding a spiritual reality of interconnectedness as taught by everyone from Martin Luther King to Gandhi to Mother Theresa to the Dalai Lama. Though each of these figures comes from different religious backgrounds, each of them came to a spiritual understanding that all of life is interconnected. This understanding lends itself to a natural imperative to act for justice while still being loving, playful, and assertive.
Perhaps this sounds too "New Agey" but we have time and time again seen that If tyrants fear any thing, it is those who can stand firm and patient while seeing through the tyrants' facade of strength and to the reality of the weak fearful place from which they act. Dumbledore was the only one that Voldemort feared because Dumbledore addressed him by his original name of "Tom Riddle" and approached him "as though he had not a fear in the world, as though nothing had happened to interrupt his stroll up the hall."
This kind of confidence is something that has been exhibited by the Dr. Kings, the Gandhis, the Aung San Suu Kyi's in facing great tyrannies. And the What Would Dumbledore Do campaign is about using the metaphor of Dumbledore to demonstrate how all masters of social change have shown a love and patience from which our entire world can learn in how we approach everything from global policies toward poverty to how we approach the reality of our own mortality.
With his connection to the Phoenix, Dumbledore understood that while these fragile bodies of ours are destined to die, we are not single waves but part of the ocean; as he tells Harry, "to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure," and that those we have loved and lost never truly leave us.
For all of us who are fans of Harry Potter, it was incredibly traumatic to read about the death of Albus Dumbledore, and it will be disturbing to watch it in the upcoming film. But as this fictional character, with whom we have developed a very real relationship, sets off on his next great adventure, he and his vision continue to stay real and alive in our hearts. It is a vision that we are carefully articulating at whatwoulddumbledoredo.org. It is a vision that the world deeply needs, and one that echoes the visions of humanity's greatest visionaries. It is a vision that encourages each of us, in our quest to better humanity, to start from a place of compassion, creativity, and peace as we begin to collectively become aware of the only reality that there is: love.
Andrew Slack is Executive Director of the the Harry Potter Alliance, whose creative approach activism by mobilizing thousands of kids to become activists by using parallels from the Harry Potter novels continues to help its partner NGOs in numerous advocacy campaigns.