Interview With Katie Bowers, Campaigns Director Of The Harry Potter Alliance, Honorable Mention, 2016 Innovations in Reading Prize
THE HARRY POTTER ALLIANCE
Honorable Mention, 2016 Innovations in Reading Prize
NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION: You use literature, particularly the Harry Potter series, to inspire activism. Why connect activism with stories, especially these stories?
KATIE BOWERS: Firstly, fans are powerful. When a new Harry Potter book comes out, or a big shake up happens on Game of Thrones, the world knows about it— not because of the power of creators or companies, but because of the enthusiasm and dedication of fans. When directed at social change, that energy and enthusiasm can draw people in and accomplish some big things!
That draw is the second reason it's so powerful. Everyone is a fan of something. We’ve all imagined ourselves fighting monsters alongside our heroes. Fan activism allows people to take those traits and skills—bravery, loyalty, dedication, problem-solving, etc.—and use them to fight the real world dark arts like oppression, bigotry, and injustice.
Finally, sometimes there is a barrier to enter activism. People think, “Oh, I don't know enough about that issue,” or “I'm the wrong age,” or “I don't know how to organize a charity drive, call Congress, recruit volunteers.” Activism isn't hard, but it can be intimidating. Using pop culture can help break down complex issues into familiar, understandable ideas. It frames activism as an adventure!
"It's incredible, it's humbling, and it's uplifting to see people going out there and doing that in the name of your character."
NBF: You fight for all kinds of different causes, from net neutrality to marriage equality. Is there a reason the Harry Potter Alliance has remained so flexible in its advocacy goals?
KB: In truth, we care deeply about so many different issues, it’d be hard to pick just one or two. Our community is full of passionate, big-hearted fans who want to help make the world a better place. When a major issue arises— from helping Haiti after the earthquake, to protecting net neutrality, to fighting the anti-trans bathroom bills— wizard activists want to help. Remaining flexible in our goals allows us to achieve our main goal: helping fans channel their awesome energy into positive social change!
How do you choose the causes you fight for?
KB: There’s no one way that we select the causes we work on. Sometimes they are issues that our staff feels passionately about. Sometimes they are issues that are prevalent in the news or that partner organizations have brought to our attention. Our favorite campaigns are often those that come from our community. Wizard activists will approach us with an idea at a convention or a wizard rock show saying, “You should do a campaign that gets everyone to donate books!” or “Let's try and make Harry Potter chocolate fair trade!” Those ideas often turn into our favorite campaigns.
What is the role of social media in this kind of fan activism?
KB: The HPA’s community spans the world. While our senior staff is based in the U.S., we have volunteers, chapters, and individual wizard activists in 25 countries on six continents! Social media keeps us all connected. It helps individuals take action in our campaigns. It draws new people into the work of wizard activism. Social media makes it possible for a worldwide community of wizard activists to come together to effect positive social change on many different levels in countless communities. When our community comes together for real life conventions like our hero-training conference, the Granger Leadership Academy, it feels incredibly powerful and exciting. But that community connection stays strong all year long thanks to the numerous magical online spaces that nearly twenty years of fandom have built.
During our annual Accio Books campaign, wizard activists and librarians joined forces to advocate for library funding, with over 3,000 calls and letters to Congress on National Library Legislative Day. Wizard activists also smashed all previous records this year when they collected and donated over 100,000 books to schools, libraries, and literacy programs all around the world!