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Fans of Action: How Harry Potter Inspired a New Generation of Activists

by Abby Ohlheiser

Weeks after the earthquake in January, 2010, five planes, filled with medical supplies, flew to Haiti. One plane was named DFTBA, which stands for Don’t Forget To Be Awesome, an acronym popularized by the nerdfighters. The other four were named Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore, after the most familiar and beloved characters from the Harry Potter series. Partners In Health chartered the planes with $123,000 dollars raised by a group called the Harry Potter Alliance.

Perhaps best known for its ubiquitous fan fiction, Wizard Rock bands, and for titillating bookstore owners everywhere with the promise of a packed house on book launch nights, the Harry Potter fan community (also called a “fandom”) is often discussed as it exists in isolation from the “real world,” or as consumers of a widely-hyped, money-making franchise.  But the books have now all been written and the last film came out this month.  With the exception of a Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, it would seem the franchise is all out of new ways to engage its audience.  That’s where the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) comes in.

The non-profit, founded in 2005 to channel the Harry Potter fandom energy and resources into charitable work, uses parallels to the book series to build support for a broad range of causes, connections that range from direct to oblique.  One example: The HPA works for LGBT equality, and has cited the “in the closet” hidden identities of Hagrid the half-giant, Lupin the werewolf, and the protagonist Harry Potter himself, who was forced to literally live in a closet for most of his early childhood. Continue Reading →