Above: Harry Potter Alliance co-founder, Andrew Slack, at TEDxYouth@SanDiego.
“Hashtag activism”. Blogging. Online petitions. Social media has created an easy way to engage youth in changing the world. A less known form of activism that heavily uses social media is on the rise, and it is making a momentous difference; fan-based activism occurs when groups of people who are passionate about the same piece of media- a book, television show, movie, etc.- band together to fight for an issue that is important to them, which is often similar to a theme that is covered in the media piece the fan group surrounds. People of any age can be a fan activist, but it is particularly popular for teenagers and young adults.
The most efficient and largest example of fan based activism is the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA). The HPA boasts that it “turn[s] fans into heroes by making activism accessible through the power of story and engag[ing] millions of fans through [their] work for equality, human rights, and literacy”. If you are a major Harry Potter fan then you have probably heard of the recent success of the HPA’s four year campaign, Not In Harry’s Name. All Harry Potter chocolate products sold from Warner Bros. will be Fair Trade (meaning that the producers of the cocoa will be paid fair wages) by the end of 2015 thanks to the HPA’s direct communication with Warner Bros. Studios and the HPA’s petitions which garnered thousands of signatures. Not In Harry’s Name is just one of the many campaigns the HPA has run. The HPA’s other recent campaigns have centered on prominent issues including net neutrality, literacy, and economic inequality.
By using popular book series such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, the HPA is reaching a specific population- the “geeks” and “nerds” that are often overlooked in the activism sphere- and motivating them to take action by relating real life to fictional tales. Stories are read because they give people something to believe in. The themes in popular media can always be related to real life, regardless of how unrealistic the story’s premise sounds. For example, the HPA created the Odds In Our Favor campaign based of of the popular book series, The Hunger Games. In the series, the people in the Capitol are very wealthy, while the people in the districts are poor and suffering. The people at the HPA noticed the parallel between the inequality in The Hunger Games and the economic inequality in real life, and decided that they could use this parallel and the movie release of Catching Fire, the latest Hunger Game movie, to raise awareness of the wealth gap in the United States.
It can be difficult for youth to get involved as activists, but fan activism is an easy way to engage younger age groups. The more people empowered to make a difference in the world, the better, and since every piece of media has a community surrounding it, fan based activism is the perfect way to utilize those ready made communities. The author of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, said that “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to Imagine Better.” Fan based activism shows people that they can make a difference in the world, no matter what your age or who you are. Just look at Harry Potter- he defeated Voldemort at age one, and continued to outsmart him from ages eleven to seventeen. If Harry Potter can band together with friends to save the world, then so can we.
Michelle Goldie Jacobson is a Staff Writer for Pulse Magazine.