Imagine a world faced with unpredictable attacks that are carried out by a cult-like network. Led by a charismatic figure that is rarely ever seen or heard from, this network continues to claim responsibility for heinous acts that include random kidnappings, the destruction of bridges and mass murders.
Stateless and living among the masses, its members have become so hard to track down that the government is at a loss. Officials have begun to focus more on the image of “looking tough” than on creating real safeguards to protect its citizens. The world has become haunted by fear. It is no longer a question of whether there will be another attack, but when that next attack will happen and how many lives it will take.
Sound familiar? If you’ve read Harry Potter, it should.
That’s right. Harry Potter: that best-selling fantasy series that some people assume is just entertaining reading material for kids and childish adults. And while Harry Potter is filled with a childlike magic, that magic plays out in a world whose “dark and difficult times” often mirror those of our society. The heroes that emerge from the struggles of this fantasy world can teach us something.
In the spring of 2005, I founded the Harry Potter Alliance, an international organization that uses online social networks to mobilize thousands of Harry Potter fans on social justice issues and apply this wizardly wisdom to our lives and our world.
Some of my friends think I’m crazy. “You know,” they tell me, “Voldemort is not real. And Harry’s parents were never murdered in Godric’s Hollow. In fact, Godric’s Hollow and Harry don’t even exist. You see, Harry Potter takes place in something called ‘a story.’ And a story …”
Well, I know what a story is. But I also know that stories can help us tap into our true selves and explore the power of the world’s magic throughout the ages.
e yearn for the magic of Harry Potter. The “Muggle Mindset” (Muggles are ordinary humans, as opposed to wizards) that pervades our culture is unimaginative and two-dimensional. It is a system based on fear that sets normalcy as one’s aspiration.
The Muggle Mindset affects every aspect of our society: Lindsay Lohan supersedes news about genocide, men assess their “worth” by their paychecks, women’s bodies are treated as commodities and our educational system preoccupies itself not with stimulating children’s curiosity but rather getting them to efficiently regurgitate information on standardized tests. (At the Harry Potter Alliance we refer to “Leave No Child Behind” as “Leave No Imagination Recognized.”)
As we seek to break out of these trends in our world and into the magical, we are inspired to spread love and fight the Dark Arts in the real world by that shining embodiment of magic – Harry’s mentor, Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore reminds us that because Voldemort and his cultish network of Death Eaters attain their strength by spreading enmity and discord, the only way to fight them is by creating and building bonds of friendship and trust.
Dumbledore advocates for a series of policy reforms in the Ministry of Magic (the Wizarding World’s governing body) that can be applied to our own society. The Ministry’s practice of abandoning habeas corpus and using “dementors” (soul-sucking wraiths) to torture and imprison innocent suspects like Sirius Black (Harry’s godfather) should be replaced by fair trials and humane prisons. Spying on and reading the mail of anyone who disagrees with the Minister should be replaced by a policy that values personal privacy. A “go it alone” diplomatic approach should yield to forging healthy relations with those who are different, even those as dysfunctional as the giants.
“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open,” says Dumbledore. He discusses how prevailing ideas of racial superiority for full-blood wizards must be transformed into curiosity and interest in people’s differences. Half-giants, like Harry’s friend Hagrid, shouldn’t have to hide their identities. House elves in servile positions must be allowed freedom and respect. Indigenous populations, like the Centaurs and Merpeople, must be treated with the reverence and fairness they deserve. And unconventional marriages, such as the one between Lupin, the werewolf, and Tonks, the full-blood witch, should be welcomed so long as they bring more love into the world. Only then will the Ministry be able to counter Voldemort.
Dumbledore was too wise to think that Ministry officials hold the keys to such transformation. Stigmatized by the mainstream Wizarding World for being “out there,” Dumbledore invests his energy in students like Harry, Hermione and Ron. The idealism, warmth, humor and love of these young people contain the ingredients for the transformations that Dumbledore understands would revolutionize the world and defeat Voldemort. These are also the ingredients that draw millions of readers and moviegoers to Harry Potter.
— — — — — — — — — —
At the Harry Potter Alliance, we are coupling the solitary experience of reading with an experience that is communal. At times, this involves sending out exercises that help members tap into the magic of their own creativity. Other times, it involves working on social justice issues.
The most notable effort in our quirky quest for social justice is educating and mobilizing our members around the genocide in Darfur. The Harry Potter parallel to Darfur is simple: With both the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet (the Wizarding World’s mainstream news source) in denial that Voldemort has returned and evil is afoot, Harry and his underground rebel group, “Dumbledore’s Army,” work with the adult group, “The Order of the Phoenix,” to awake the world. We in the Alliance seek to be Dumbledore’s Army for the real world, working with anti-genocide organizations, such as “Fidelity Out of Sudan” and the “Genocide Intervention Network,” to wake our governments, corporations and media up to the fact that “never again” means “never again.”
Like the Daily Prophet in Harry’s world, our mainstream media has done an inadequate job of exposing both the reality of this genocide and the tangible ways we can bring it to an end. Last year, I had a conversation about this with the former political director for ABC News, Mark Halperin. He explained that they would like to do more reporting about Darfur but that it simply wasn’t profitable.
Our recent podcast on Darfur featured experts such as Ambassador Joe Wilson and co-founder of the ENOUGH Project John Prendergast. Thanks to the efforts of Harry Potter fan sites like “The Leaky Cauldron” and Wizard Rock bands like “Harry and the Potters,” that podcast has been downloaded 114,000 times. What’s more, Harry Potter Alliance members on four continents threw Harry Potter house parties where they called on Fidelity Investments to divest from Chinese oil companies like PetroChina and Sinopec that are quite literally fueling the genocide.
We also address the Dark Arts closer to home. We have lent support to the campaign against the Dark Lord Waldemart who killed Harry’s parents’ small business and now must be stopped from his attempt to torture House Elves and suck the magic from local communities. Thanks to the Harry Potter Alliance’s supportive network, the Waldemart videos that I wrote, starred in and produced with Wal-Mart Watch and comedy group, The Late Night Players have been viewed more than 1 million times. (You can see them at www.waldemartwatch.com)
All this fills me with a sense of hope. Despite the problems facing us as individuals and as a society, our world embraces the story of Harry Potter … a story about three friends who continue to act on their courage, expand their heart’s capacity to love and in doing so, renew their world.
As Harry says to his fellow students in the most recent movie: “Every great wizard in history has started off as nothing more than we are now. If they can do it, why not us?”
If Harry and his friends can come together with love in their hearts, a sense of playfulness and a vision for a better world … why can’t his fans?