How Harry Potter is inspiring muggles to help from Haiti to Darfur
The magical Harry Potter movie franchise enters its concluding phase this week, but its impact is still growing. Its legacy: young activists motivated to find solutions to real-world problems.
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Partners in the real world
HPA has done everything from helping to bring out the vote in 2008 to raising awareness about human rights violations in Darfur. The group partnered with existing charitable groups working in Haiti to ferry in medical and food supplies after the earthquake.Skip to next paragraph
The most recent undertaking takes its cue from the final Potter book, using the seven horcruxes – magical soul-containing objects that Harry and his friends must destroy to vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort – as vehicles for the seven biggest political issues of the day. In a campaign that just launched, the group wants to put a monthly spotlight on such hot button issues as world hunger, economic and racial inequality, and literacy. The drive will culminate next summer when the second and concluding part of the Deathly Hallows film arrives.
In 2009, Mr. Jenkins embarked on a Macarthur Foundation-funded, three-year study of online participatory culture and its implications for political organizing among youth. The HPA is one of only two groups he is studying in the initial phase, he says, because of its robust growth and ability to effect action. (The other group is Invisible Children, which combats the abduction of children for use as child soldiers in Uganda.)
HPA builds on what Jenkins calls the “proto-activism” of fan groups that have moved TV networks to extend the life of a favorite show or character through massive grassroots online activism. But, he says, what HPA is doing takes this kind of activism to a more fully realized scale.
By speaking the emotional language of this cohort, Jenkins says, Slack and his group bypass the alienation most young people feel from the “policy wonk” rhetoric that permeates most normal politics.
From fiction to reality
Tapping into beloved figures from pop fiction is nothing new, Jenkins says, adding that he himself, as a young TV viewer, was moved to a greater appreciation of real-world problems through his passion for the original 1960s Star Trek series. As a young man growing up in the segregated South, he says, “I appreciated seeing the multiracial cast.”
Jenkins says the biggest challenge the HPA faces as it moves from its passionate base into partnering with existing organizations to effect real change, “is being taken seriously when you are named for a children’s book.”
However, he says, the fact that HPA took home this year’s second annual Chase Bank Community Giving Contest on Facebook, which awarded a $250,000 prize, is a sign that the group is gaining the more adult traction that it seeks.