It's been five years since J.K. Rowling released the last installment of the Harry Potter series (today, she launched her first book for adults). And yet the Harry Potter fandom lives on—perhaps most prominently through a network of fans of the wily wizard called The Harry Potter Alliance.
An Alliance slogan, "Nobody should be forced to live in the cupboard," reveals these are more than just fans. The group, which claims to have a network that reaches well over one million, uses Rowling's best-selling series as a platform for progressive political activism. That slogan, which references Harry Potter's cupboard sleeping space at the Dursley family home, also encompasses the group's fight for what they call "immigration equality," "LGBT equality" and other human rights.
It might sound crazy that a bunch of Harry Potter fans could significantly move the dial on political issues. But Henry Jenkins, a professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California, wrote recently on his site that "one can't argue with the success" of the Alliance.
The group adopts "fantastical and playful metaphors rather than the language of insider politics," he wrote, to "capture the imagination and change the minds of young Americans."
Since the Alliance's founding in 2007, those fans have also consistently proved their doubters wrong. They raised $123,000 for relief efforts in Haiti, which sent five cargo planes full of aid to the country after a devastating earthquake in 2010. A video by Alliance member Julian Gomez, in which he came out as an undocumented "Muggleborn American," garnered over 10,000 views in a day.
And a recent fundraiser called "Equality for the Win," whose funds will partly go to fighting for gay marriage rights in Maryland and Maine, raised more than $95,000. The Alliance says it has raised close to a million dollars total since inception.
"We are effective in getting activists to be first-time activists ... because we organize around modern myth and popular culture," says Harry Potter Alliance Founder and Executive Director Andrew Slack. "It builds unprecedented positive communities." Slack says he believes organizing fans of a movie or book series is more effective for political activism than the efforts of liberal sites like Daily Kos because those sites "don't move many people except the people who have already been moved."
This election, the Alliance will harness its fan communities in Maryland and Maine to man phone banks in support of ballot initiatives that would allow gay marriage in the two states. In 2009, the Alliance also rallied supporters in Maine to fight against the repeal of a law that allowed gay marriage. Things didn't go the Alliance's way then, with the law ultimately repealed. But Slack says, "Now we're going back to Maine to finish what we started."