Lord Voldemort needed to be stopped, and with the government infiltrated and no one else to save the wizarding world, three students took action. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley started the covert Dumbledore’s Army – an activist organization dedicated to practicing defense against the dark arts.
Here at UC Davis, a new student activist group is using lessons from the Harry Potter series to fight real-life social injustices, ranging from illiteracy to human trafficking.
“Harry Potter is what we all have in common to encourage social change,” said Allison Callow, sophomore international relations major and organizer of the Davis chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA).
Launched in 2005, HPA is a nonprofit that engages over one million Harry Potter fans in social activism. The Davis chapter is one of over 70 chapters that brings HPA’s national campaigns to local communities.
In April, the Davis HPA was fighting illiteracy with the Accio! Bookdrive, which yielded 740 books for needy kids in Sacramento. The books were donated to Knights Landing Family Resource Center and The Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary School in Sacramento.
This month’s issue is human trafficking. The club held an on-campus film screening on May 10 of The Dark Side of Chocolate – a documentary shedding light on child slavery in the cocoa trade. On a national level, HPA is trying to get Time Warner to only use fair trade chocolates in its Harry Potter products.
In the world of Harry Potter, ill treatment of the house elves is the inspiration for raising awareness about human trafficking. This chocolate campaign is HPA’s equivalent of Hermione’s Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW).
At meetings, the 15 active members of the Davis HPA explore these parallels as well as parallels in current events. After the death of Osama bin Laden, the club discussed bin Laden in relation to Lord Voldemort – both of whom allegedly died on May 2.
“Both leaders have similar ideas associated with them,” Callow said. “They both terrorized their communities. They both ruled by fear.”
Potterheads tantalized by these conversations can find the Davis HPA in Olson 109 – the room of requirement – on Tuesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. An interested student doesn’t have to be as intense of a Harry Potter fan as Callow is to come to a meeting, Callow said.
Callow has been to Harry Potter conventions. She’s sat in academic seminars comparing the Death Eaters – Lord Voldemort’s minions – with the Nazi regime. And as Harry grew up, she grew up.
“I was really shy as a kid, so I just read … I spent every recess period devouring them,” she said. “For third grade, Harry Potter was my best friend.”
Other members of the Davis HPA have similar stories – they’re united through their fandom and they’re grateful for the Harry Potter community.
If Valerie Mores, art director for the club, is having a bad day, she can read Harry Potter and automatically feel better. Some say they don’t understand Alex Ralph’s love for the series, but she doesn’t care.
“People are equally obsessed with sports teams or rock bands,” Ralph, who will be the club’s event coordinator in the fall, said. “It’s the same thing. It’s just magic.”
“Everyone has a passion,” she said. “So why is it a bad thing? We’re using our passion and channeling it to the real world.”
And what is it exactly about the Harry Potter series that breeds such a loyal following? According to the Davis HPA, it’s everything. It’s the writing, it’s the relatable characters, it’s the fight against the man and it’s the universal themes of love.
“Harry Potter spawned a fan movement that raised tons of money for great causes,” Ralph said. “It connected everyone – ages four to 40.”
The Davis HPA is planning a feast on May 31 to celebrate the end of the year and discuss future plans. Any Muggle is welcome and can get more information by joining the Facebook group by searching for The Davis Alliance. Mores is bringing butterbeer cupcakes.
JANELLE BITKER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.