Harnessing the Power of Hogwarts
by Cathy Mallen Webber
When Harry Potter went searching for horcruxes, readers the world over rooted for the boy wizard to defeat Lord Voldemort. And unless you’re a Death Eater yourself, it’s hard not to root for someone who seeks to destroy horcruxes in the real world. That’s one way Andrew Slack ’02, cofounder and executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, describes his organization’s mission.
Slack, a rabid Harry Potter fan, founded the nonprofit in 2005 as a way to harness the power of popular culture to bring about social change. Described as a “Dumbledore’s Army for the real world,” the HP Alliance takes a creative approach to activism by tapping into the fan population to encourage members to fight for social justice, whether it’s ending genocide, spreading literacy, promoting gay rights or aiding earthquake-shattered Haiti.
Though he had no Marauder’s Map to guide him, Slack seems to have found his way to exactly where he belongs — at the intersection of activism and the power of story. “The HP Alliance is at the forefront of a social movement built around the connections between popular culture and our world,” he says. While some Muggles may peg the group as a bunch of dorks and nerds geeking out, Slack sees opportunity. “You have a built-in community that’s already exercising a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources on being fans,” he says.
Activism isn’t new to Slack. “At Brandeis, I had a lot of professors who had been there since the ’60s and were at the center of the university’s political radicalism,” he says. Their influence led him to spend two months in Northern Ireland working at a center for peace and later to participate in a class through which he spent a month traveling the East Coast meeting with civil rights leaders and studying the patterns of social movements.
But even those early experiences did not prepare him for the overwhelming response the HP Alliance received. The alliance caught on faster than a Firebolt. “Within months, the organization was communicating with more than 100,000 people across the globe,” says Slack. “We went from having this little idea to suddenly having global outreach.”
Due partly to its efforts in raising more than $123,000 for Helping Haiti Heal earlier this year, the HP Alliance recently came in first in the Chase Community Giving Contest on Facebook, winning the grand prize of $250,000.
But the staff of the HP Alliance is not kicking back with a butterbeer and reveling in its success. Next it plans to get a million people engaged in activism for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and will launch a new campaign based on the concept of “Imagine Better”— the idea that solutions to the world’s problems can be found if we put our creativity to the test.
Ultimately, Slack says, the HP Alliance is about “people who love stories and people who create stories coming together to improve the stories of individuals and communities across our world.”
It doesn’t take a wizard to see pure magic in that.