I was 8 years old the first time I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. My mom suggested we buy it at an elementary school book fair, and I've been obsessed ever since. I grew up reading each and every book, waiting in line at bookstores for their midnight releases, and taking many of JK Rowling's important lessons to heart.
10 years after my first encounter with Harry Potter, I voted in my first Presidential election: in 2008, I cast my absentee ballot vote for Barack Obama. According to a recent study conducted by professor Anthony Gierzynski at the University of Vermont, this isn't a coincidence.
In Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation — published in May 2013 — Gierzynski surveyed over 1,000 millennial-aged students between 2009 and 2011 who were fans of the series, ranging from diehard fans to those who were only fans of the films. He found that 60 percent of Obama voters in 2008 were fans of Harry Potter and 83 percent of the series' fans viewed President George Bush negatively.
"The lessons fans internalized about tolerance, diversity, violence, torture, skepticism and authority made the Democratic Party and Barack Obama more appealing to fans of Harry Potter in the current political environment," Gierzynski said. "Conservatives say liberals have been brainwashed by Harry Potter."
Harry Potter didn't "brainwash" me into voting for Obama, but there's no doubt that JK Rowling's fiction played a significant role in affecting my personal politics. Here are five values partially shaped by my love for Harry Potter.
1. Question those in power.
Just because someone is in a leadership position — like government, politics, teachers, and parents, to name a few — doesn't automatically mean they're in the right. It's important to critique things around me — especially people in power — and constructively think about the ways power operates on systemic levels.
2. "Good vs. evil" isn't a simple concept.
The ever-wise Sirius Black once said, "We've all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." Good and evil isn't as black and white as we might like to think. The books preach keeping an open mind and being careful not to judge a book by its cover.
3. Love is the most important thing we have.
From Harry's friendships with Ron and Hermione to his strong bond with parent figures like the Weasleys, Sirius, and Dumbledore (and even his deceased parents themselves), love is the prevailing theme throughout the entire series. It's the thing that most separates Harry from Voldemort, and the ultimate force that saves the Wizarding World from defeat.
4. We play a role in determining our own fate.
Nobody puts it better than Albus Dumbledore himself when he tells Harry, "It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be." Our individual circumstances obviously affect our place in the world, but Harry also teaches us that the decisions we make for ourselves along the way hold just as much weight.
5. Equality is worth fighting for.
Voldemort's desire to oppress muggles and other magical creatures that don't classify as full-blooded wizards nearly brought the rest of the Wizarding World to the brink of disaster. It was a difficult fight that spanned different generations of social justice advocates — from the original Order of the Phoenix to Dumbledore's Army — but Harry and company never gave up on the main principle that everyone deserves the right to equality and fair treatment.