The Harry Potter Alliance: Sociotechnical Contexts of Digitally Mediated Activism
In the months following the disastrous earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) sent fi ve cargo planes bearing the names “Harry Potter,” “Hermione Granger,” “Ron Weasley,” “Dumbledore,” and “DFTBA” to deliver medical supplies to Port of Prince, Haiti. Funds for these supplies were raised by members of the Harry Potter Alliance, a 501c3 nonprofi t collective of fans that use allusions from the Harry Potter series to motivate social change in the real world, and members of other fandoms, such as Nerdfi ghters and fans of the television shows LOST and Firefl y . Four of the cargo planes were named after characters within the popular Harry Potter series, whereas the plane named “DFTBA” represented the Nerdfi ghter catchphrase, “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.” 2
People who are unfamiliar with the work of the HPA, especially those unfamiliar with active fans, are often surprised when I tell them the story of these fi ve planes and their cargo. They are surprised that fans of Harry Potter would undertake such serious work in the name of the series they love given that fan behavior is often viewed as frivolous and potentially deviant. They are surprised that an organization comprised of young people, most of whom are not professional fundraisers, could raise such an impressive sum of money. They are surprised that this collection of funds resulted in the directly visible action of the shipment of medical supplies to those in need, for it is often impossible to see how resources donated in disaster relief to large nonprofi t organizations such as the American Red Cross are actually used. If cargo planes full of medical supplies bearing the names of fi ctional characters seem unusual, the means by which the $123,000 that purchased these supplies was raised might seem extraordinary.