Harry Potter Alliance Tackles the Darkness of Darfur

harrypotter-alliance.jpgLet me get this straight. Media watchdogs deem the new Harry Potter film inappropriate for children, yet it’s being marketed to them heavily. Mainstream media mavens and reviewers debate the brooding adolescent depictions of an angry, angst-ridden Harry, deciding it’s gritty teen fare, on the cusp of its PG-13 rating. Gotcha.

Meanwhile dark acts in the REAL world transpire, so wrenching and disturbing that nations wave their wands frantically wishing horrific slaughters like Darfur would all just vanish…then who materializes to unveil the reality? Youth.

While parents hand-wring about whether tykes will get upset from violent trauma on the silver screen, there’s irony that the youth in social media’s Harry Potter Alliance have chosen to break out of the sheltered, bubble-wrapped barriers of cinematic wizardry to crusade against REAL world terrors. Britt Bravo’s BlogHer post details how the Harry Potter Alliance took shape on MySpace, extending to house parties springing up all over the globe to connect with the dark side issues of genocide in Darfur.

“I’m just a teenager, but I have a voice and a big heart and want to put all my effort into planning an awesome party to help spread the word and help Darfur,” one 16-year old HPA member said.

Are these kids ditching self-indulgence and consumerism to champion a cause way beyond organic lip gloss and eco-friendly cars?

If so, they’re venturing into some VERY ugly territory. 3.5 million Sudanese are going hungry, 2.5 million have been displaced by violence, and 400,000 have died in Darfur to date. But wait…Is this the Live Earth controversy all over again? Will people now claim these teens are ideologue do-gooders, just out for a good time or a socially conscious hot date? Where does cynicism end; where do agents of change begin?

The Foreign Policy Association picked Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond as their editor’s choice. (For npr book excerpt and podcast interview click here) So now we have:

“An Academy Award-nominated actor (Cheadle/Hotel Rwanda) and a renowned human rights activist (Prendergast) team up to change the tragic course of history in the Sudan.”

Almost sounds like a TV logline to me…And therein lies the problem.

Fact and fiction are blurred as dark sides become fantasy and vice-versa…It all starts to seem like a really bad horror film.

Darfur is not just Global Citizenship in a Virtual World (excellent blog!) or a Global Kids cause-marketing effort in Teen Second Life, (also a fave) or even a satellite lens on a tragedy…Darfur is REAL.

Very, very real. And very, very dark.

Who are WE to dismiss the social media efforts of teens with a vision?

I LOVE it when kids draw social relevance between pop culture and current events, they’re using media in a format that integrates within their world.

Harry’s stumping for Darfur in MTV indie rock bands. Online forums. Podcasts, (or in this case, “Pottercasts”!) and on youth websites like Mugglenet. That’s more than I can say for some adults who can’t even find Sudan on a map, much less tell me what’s happening in Darfur, so I hope people don’t belittle kids’ efforts to engage.

The correlation is being made between Harry starting an underground activist group called ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ to wake the Ministry of Magic up to the fact that Voldemort has returned and the HPA’s desire to wake our government leaders up to the fact that they need to end the genocide in Darfur.

Hmn. Fascinating. (Turns out JK Rowling used to work for Amnesty International, so they might be spot on with their assessment; hard to tell) My point is simply this:

Youth are constructively using new media in exciting ways far beyond twitch games, we just don’t hear about it. Why? Why? Why?

Whether it’s the worthy educational uses of Second Life, games like Ayiti, or the Harry Potter Alliance connecting through music or social media to compare our own “dark and difficult times” to the Harry character, positive media seems to receive miniscule press coverage if any.

Example of using the power of media for positive change?

“In anticipation of the back-to-back release of the final Harry Potter book (Book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and the fifth movie — HP Alliance is working with the Genocide Intervention Network and several human rights groups to organize hundreds of house parties all over the world…

…On July 14, each house party will listen to an HP Alliance podcast where Joe Wilson, former U.S. Ambassador; John Prendergast, senior advisor to the International Crisis Group; Dot Maver executive director of the Peace Alliance; and John Passacantando, executive director of GreenPeace will discuss the history of the Sudanese genocide and how regular people can do something to stop it. The podcast will also feature “Wizard Rock” bands like “Harry and the Potters” and is co-sponsored by the popular Harry Potter news site, the Leaky Cauldron.”

Clearly these social media kids are not just messin’ around, they’re mobilizing. And by the looks of it, they’re 100,000 strong and growing.

To me, this is where peer to peer marketing and media leveraging can work magic…Shaping Youth in a POSITIVE direction…

Look no further than our camp carpool of preteens this morning as I quietly watched a similar momentum take hold.

One tween lit up the backstory and controversy of wearing Abercrombie + Fitch tees due to racial slurs, child labor practices, objectification and teen “girlcotts” and the entire mood shifted from “I love them they’re so cool” to “omg! I’ll never go in THAT store again.”

Ah, the power of youth conviction with a spoonful of information.

Impressionable. Driven. Action-oriented.

If kids can change peer purchasing behaviors en masse in a snap, IMAGINE what they can do to rally kids for a cause…

Stirs the soul with potential, doesn’t it?

Newsflash! This just in for Potterphiles: The Leaky Cauldron has just announced that author J. K. Rowling’s reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows taking place at the Natural History Museum in the U.K. will be streamed LIVE online via the publisher, Bloomsbury’s website at midnight on July 21st. (next week!)

Wish those kids in Darfur had the same chance to listen.–AJ



  1. I’ll get this dialogue started with a first strike attempt to dissuade people from making this a ‘political ideologue/left vs. right’ issue…REMINDER…


    So please be aware that I’m well up to speed on the fact that the atrocities in Darfur are multi-layered and complex.

    I’d like to keep this discussion to the use of POSITIVE MEDIA and innovation/integration of new ideas…inspiring kids to engage with ‘real life’ current affairs and media for a more meaningful dialogue.

    P.S. Political commentary is easily found on the Washington Post website, like this link reporting on the satellite ‘eye on Darfur’


    “…the political questions are different. See Darfur. Marty writes in his report for the COE (on renditions etc) that there are still airplanes full of weapons flying to Sudan. Not even this has stopped. Asking for intervention is not credible as long as there is no weapon embargo. It even looks as if the weapons would be the precondition for any intervention. Let there be more massacres and then we will save them. Google Earth and Afghanistan, nice to get the big picture too, but it does not give you answers to questions that you have not asked.”

    —-etc. etc. yadayada…so don’t flood my e-mail, post here instead on MEDIA impact & kids…’k? —AJ 🙂

  2. One more for you…on the Harry Potter effect of reading from
    PRNewswire: “Harry Potter Charms the Entertainment Industry”

    The Nielsen Company examines Harry Potter’s VAST impact on Books, Movies, Internet, Television, Music and Advertising

    NEW YORK, July 10 /PRNewswire/ — With the imminent release of the new Harry Potter movie, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” as well as the upcoming book release on July 21 of the seventh and final installment in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” The Nielsen Company today released a multi-dimensional overview into the young wizard’s strong impact on the entertainment industry. Here is a unique look at the Harry Potter effect.

    — Book sales (Nielsen BookScan) – Since 1998, when Nielsen began measuring book sales in the United Kingdom, the six Harry Potter books have sold more than 22.5 million copies in the UK alone.

    In the United States, the Harry Potter titles published after 2001 have sold more than 27.7 million copies…

    READ ON, kids…


  3. GREAT stuff Amy, sometimes I get dejected when I see alot of young people caught up in the temporary and often times fleeting pleasures of the latest gadget or clothing piece. All is not lost! I’m actually making it a personal and career goal to move forward into learning about the benefits of social/new media technologies and how it impacts the world for good. A definite ray of sunshine…thanks again

  4. Actually, YOU are a definite ray of sunshine, both for commenting and for mindset! Appreciate it.

  5. Update! Check this out on Beth Kanter’s blog:

    “24 Hours for Darfur, a grassroots video advocacy campaign dedicated to ending the conflict in Darfur and promoting peace and security for the people living there. The campaign video will explain, but take a look at some of the ones submitted by people all over the world.

    The goal is to collect thousands of personal video appeals from people all over the world. All appeals will be displayed on their website and sent directly to participant’s political representatives. On September 16, 2007 they will screen 24 hours of rolling footage at a rally in front of the UN headquarters and at smaller events at halls of power throughout the world – all connected through a real-time online broadcast…”

    WOW! Great use of YouTube, folks!!!

  6. i think our governments should do some more proactive task in Darfur. the UN is not doing a very good job in resolving the crisis in Darfur.

  7. the internation community should be more proactive in dealing with the situation in Darfur. we should not only send food aids but we also need to influence the political policies in the Darfur region `

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