Let me tell you a story about Harry Potter. How many of you have read Harry Potter? Okay, great, for those of you who haven’t, it’s a very popular book series. For those of you who have, this story is probably not the Harry Potter story you’re thinking of. This story is about a plane, a Boeing 727. On March 3rd 2010 it took off from Miami, Florida filled to the brim with life saving medical supplies. Two hours later, it landed in Port au Prince, Haiti. In the wake of the Haitian earthquake, there were a lot of planes flying into Haiti, but what made this one unique was that it had a name- Harry Potter, and it was sent by his fans, the Harry Potter Alliance.
The Harry Potter Alliance is a nonprofit that’s mission is making activism accessible through the power of story. They reason that, if Harry Potter obsessives are willing to camp out overnight for a book, they may be able to be persuaded to channel that passion in even more productive ways. As the Alliance’s website states, “Unironic enthusiasm is a renewable resource.” The organization gives young people the opportunity to make a tangible impact in ways that they can feel good about. Reality is that teenagers want to be engaged in issues but just don’t know where to start- most opportunities are to inaccessible or intimidating, but by connecting to a book that we love it becomes accessible and exciting.
The Alliance was founded in 2005 as a reaction to certain conflicts around the world and human rights violations. All of the service programs that the Alliance engages in can be traced back to J.K. Rowling and the wizarding world in a concrete way- for example, helping victims of abuse is related to the abuse of house elves like Dobby in the Harry Potter series. By doing this, organization members always have a common knowledge of something personal to them, which often translates to a special bond with the project and this special bond is making a huge difference in national issues.
Take Darfur, for instance- before the issues became mainstream and widely known, the Harry Potter Alliance was trying to get the word out and was pushing congress to take action. They worked on a marriage equality campaign in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island through a non-profit called Mass Equality, which supports same sex marriage and a soon as they partnered with the Alliance, the number of phone calls they got in one day grew by 1,2000 percent. Alliance chapters have donated more than 250,000 books to underprivileged readers around the globe since 2009 and have helped build libraries around the world. The Huffington Post publicized a 2010 initiative that expressed concerns to Warner Brothers that their Harry Potter chocolate products have a trail going right back to the people who are kidnapping and enslaving children and forcing them to grow cocoa on the ivory coast.
When J.K. Rowling herself is asked about the organization, Time Magazine says she “practically levitates off the couch, spilling her coffee along the way.” “It’s incredible, it’s humbling, and it’s uplifting to see people going out there and doing that in the name of your character,” she says.
But let’s return to Harry Potter the cargo plane. This plane really is one of the strongest demonstrations of the power of young people- they were the vast majority that funded, through small donations, the $123,000 that sent those 5 cargo planes to Haiti full of medical supplies, each of them named after a Harry Potter character. Beyond the concrete medical supplies and relief that they provided, these planes serve prove anyone who’s told a child to stop reading or watching and focus on the real world that they’re so incredibly wrong in the assumption that fantasy and story is not productive or important.It shows that fantasy isn’t an escape from our world, it’s an invitation deeper into it. Through fantasy and people’s love of story, we have the ability to take the energy that’s already demonstrated in our culture and redirect it to make a tangible change. This is bigger than just Harry Potter, it’s about how we look at pop culture. Take the Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Avatar- the potential for using these stories for social change is limitless and through this we can shape and change and uplift the human story in this critical time for the human narrative.
We’ve seen a lot of damage to our world through story- Hitler used story, Bin Laden used story, and companies now are using story though 30 second advertisements. Now is the time time for the good guys to start using use story, and that’s exactly what the Harry Potter Alliance is doing.
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