When J. K. Rowling was named a runner-up for Time’s 2007 Person of the Year, she had nothing but praise for the efforts of the Harry Potter Alliance, or HPA. Formed in 2005 by activist Andrew Slack, the HPA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “making activism accessible through the power of story.” By harnessing fans’ enthusiasm for Harry Potter and his beloved stories, Slack and the HPA have turned fans into activists, fighting for the issues close to Harry himself.
While there are no dark wizards threatening our un-magical lives – at least as far as we know – the HPA has stood up for many issues present in Rowling’s stories. They have collected over 50,000 books for communities in the United States and parts of Africa. They have campaigned for marriage equality and the DREAM Act. They have raised awareness of and funds to improve the situation in Darfur. Each of these draws a parallel to Harry Potter’s own struggles against genocide, oppression, bigotry, censorship, and illiteracy.
Slack calls the HPA’s approach “cultural acupuncture.” They find where the energy is in our culture and shift it in ways to help make the world a better, healthier place. And there has been an abundance of energy for Slack to tap. With the continuing success of the HPA, Slack has introduced a new project called Imagine Better, which seeks to harness the power of every conceivable fandom for the purpose of changing the world. The first step in this project is a new initiative based around Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series, called Odds in Our Favor, focused on economic inequality.
Slack and the HPA have proven that good storytelling can translate into effective action, and that fandom has value beyond enthusiasm for entertainment. What really makes their efforts unique is their plan to make their work and progress sustainable. As part of 2014’s IndieGoGo fundraiser, Equality FTW 2014, the HPA wanted to raise funds to start its own organizing retreat. The Granger Leadership Academy, named for Harry’s brilliant and resourceful friend Hermoine, is a conference designed to teach HPA members and interested Potter fans the skills they need to tackle issues in their communities and give them a huge support network in the process.
Such a goal is impressive enough, but what really makes this effort magical are the perks involved. For each of the various levels of donations, fans receive gifts that celebrate their fandom: signed copies of Rowling’s novels, signed posters from John and Hank Green, a personal voicemail from the actress who played Luna Lovegood, and much, much more.
Those perks pale in comparison to the big one. Fans who donated enough money got exclusive access to GeekyCon, formerly known as LeakyCon (the biggest Harry Potter fan convention), including a chance to sit in on rehearsals for the opening ceremony. By participating in this, fans get the chance to travel and meet more fans and fan activists. The HPA and Imagine Better have found a way to activate their fans two-fold: by giving them the resources to engage in activism based on what they love and by helping expand that love through increase fandom involvement. By doing this, the HPA has ensured that the non-ironic enthusiasm of fans is a renewable resource that can continue to drive their efforts. It’s a feedback loop of love, support, and change. And it is proving to be incredibly effective.
How can your organization adapt the methods of the HPA or Slack’s concept of cultural acupuncture? Let us know in the comments section below!
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About the Author: Joseph Nelis is a writer living and working in Pittsburgh. He earned an M.A. in Literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, writes for New Place Collaborations, and enjoys telling stories with friends in the city’s East End.