The answer to that question isn’t a simple one. It’s not tied in a neat bow like the final 20 pages of any Potter book. Because what Hermione Granger does, time and again over the course of seven books, is take very real risks in the name of what she thinks is right.
She risks her safety by standing up to bullies at school. She risks her social status by founding an organization that her friends and classmates think is unnecessary and uncool.
She risks her education by breaking probably hundreds of school rules, and plenty of laws, to do what she believes is just: she sneaks forbidden books out of the library, and steals school supplies, and breaks curfew, and messes with the laws of time and space, and aids and abets a convicted criminal, and imprisons and blackmails a journalist, and breaks into government property and oh, yeah, she co-founds a secret child army.
She sides with her friend, the wizarding world’s most wanted man, putting a price on her own head in the process.
She drops out of school and goes on the run. She cuts herself off from her family in order to ensure their safety while she drops out of school and goes on the run. She forgoes the option of leaving the wizarding world and going back to her Muggle life.
She endures torture. She risks her life again and again.
What would Hermione Granger do? A lot. She’d take real risks, lots of them, and endure a great deal of uncertainty, fear and suffering. We’re going to have to do the same. Social justice movements require sacrifice ― of comfort, or money, or friendships, or political status, or safety, or all of the above. Resistance to governments that target minorities is dangerous, and it demands courage and persistence. And unlike in an already-resolved book, real-world movements require us to make those sacrifices without knowing if they’ll pay off ― without knowing how the story ends for us, or for anyone else.
Activism comes in all shapes and sizes, and there’s a place for acts and sacrifices small and large. Some of us have less to give, less to sacrifice, less leeway to take risks. In some ways, Hermione has less to give up than others — her Mudblood status grants her less social and political capital than some in the wizarding world.
Still, in other ways, she has far more: she’s financially secure and able-bodied and can leave the wizarding world if she wants. She has a lot, so she gives up a lot. She puts herself on the line for people who are more vulnerable than she is. We’re going to have to do the same. Identifying with Hermione is not the same thing as following her example, and doing the latter will take fierce determination and a willingness to act.
In the last week, we’ve seen a huge outpouring of emotion and a renewed interest in collective action and social justice work. We’ve seen a wave of donations to organizations that defend the rights of the marginalized and we’ve seen thousands of people in the streets. But I’m afraid that a week from now, two weeks from now, our outrage will fade and that those of us who can afford to will begin to make peace with our frightening new reality. That we will stop practicing constant vigilance. I am afraid our courage will fail us. I am afraid we will want to be Hermiones, but choose instead to be Slughorns — protecting our own comfort, our own interests, trusting that someone else will take the risks and make the sacrifices, always waiting until our own safety is imperiled before we’re moved to act.
I’m the last person to sneer at the urge to watch all eight “Harry Potter” movies back-to-back or immerse oneself in the books in search of hope, clarity, comfort or inspiration. But while you’re looking, remember why Hermione is our heroine.
At its core, it’s not her quick wit and her encyclopedic knowledge of arcane wizarding history. It’s because she’s willing to ask herself the hard questions: Why are things this way? Is this just? Whose responsibility is it to make it right? And even when the answers are frightening, she doesn’t ignore the truth. She gets to work.