Hacking the Hunger Games: Harry Potter Alliance Launches Catching Fire Themed Economic Equality Campaign
Note: Slight Hunger Game’s spoilers in the video above and ahead.
Since its inception The Harry Potter Alliance has launched successful campaigns, told intricate policy stories and done a world of good in a world of Muggles. Now, in time for the release of Catching Fire the group is looking to The Hunger Games to elevate the issue of economic inequality and to galvanize young people on behalf of those most affected. I got a chance to talk to Andrew Slack, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Harry Potter Alliance about the campaign and will share some of his insights.
But first — some background:
The Harry Potter Alliance has built a reputation for being scrappy, creative and full of heart.
The group grounds complex policies and contemporary events in fictional references and beloved narratives and in fact looks to the world of Harry Potter- and the series’ creator J.K Rowling specifically, for guidance on how to change the world.
They quote her on their about page:
We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
Time and time again the group has actualized that sentiment in our own world:
- Their Accio Books campaign has resulted in over 80,000 books donated to underprivileged youth.
- The group recruited Evanna Lynch, the actress who plays Luna Lovegood in the Potter series, to join in placing pressure on Warner Bros. to make Harry Potter chocolate fair trade.
- The previous effort was part of a larger Deathly Hallows We Are The Weapons Campaign that leveraged a Harry Potter plot device to raise awareness around issues like depression, climate change, bullying and body image among others.
Their campaigns are varied and the group tackles a diverse range of issues– yet their philosophy is grounded in the fact that the ability to do good, to unleash our own kinds of magic, is within our reach.
Now the group is looking to The Hunger Games to help break down economic inequality in our own world. Their “We are the Districts” campaign leverages the Hunger Game’s three finger salute and the trilogy’s dystopian society to draw parallels and instill lessons on classism and the importance of solidarity across circumstances.
It’s easy to see ourselves in The Hunger Games. The story is grounded in the concept of the elite 1% dictating the actions of the masses by intimidation tactics and distractions. The various districts that comprise their world are forced to offer up two of their young men and women to battle to the death in an annual ceremony called The Hunger Games.
The Harry Potter Alliance video opens up with a sound clip of an entertainment reporter questioning the hotness of the movie’s main characters only to be interrupted by a quote from Haymitch- an adviser to Katniss and Peeta, the story’s primary protagonists- breaking down the real intention behind The Hunger Games:
From now on, your job is to be a distraction so people forget what the real problems are
Leveraging a distraction from our own world, the narrator from The Harry Potter Alliance then interrupts with some real talk warning;
In The Hunger Games a small portion of the population controls a majority of the wealth. People have full time jobs and still go hungry. Think it’s fiction? Think again.
The video then tackles similarities between the two world from Union protections, to access to mental health care, to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans leveraging facts and actual Hunger Games plot points from throughout the movie for emphasis. The video notes that while “1% of the US population controls 40% of the country’s wealth” “80% of the US population controls just 7% of the country’s wealth.”
In the series the state of affairs was enough to cause the characters to fight back- a plea made by the folks of The Harry Potter alliance.
From the video:
Does the Hunger Games have hot guys in it? Big fucking deal. It also has something else. US. People who want justice. President Snowe’s of the world, your reign is coming to the end. You can try and distract us but it’s too late– the fire has started and we will not stop. Not until the odds are in everyone’s favor.
The campaign then invites folks far and wide to submit selfies of themselves making the three finger salute– a gesture from the film that comes to characterize solidarity across districts despite the elite’s attempts to turn districts against each other through the Hunger Games.
In our chat Andrew broke down the thought process behind the campaign and the concept of leveraging fantastic stories towards actionable and practical ends more generally:
Fantasy is not an escape from our world but an invitation to go deeper into it. The problem that [we have is that the] invitation is not being extended. There are so many fantastic movies that deal with social issues- like Patch Adams for instance, or The Hunger Games- and afterwards people can go and see this movie and discuss them- but there’s no ‘now that you’ve seen this movie take this action or be a part of this community.
As Andrew states– if you were to break down the takeaway from the campaign it would be as simple as this equation:
“The capitol is the 1%, we are the districts, and austerity is the hunger games.
And that, as such:
The choice between shutting down street lights or cutting people’s pensions is a hunger games choice.
When you put it that way it’s hard to argue. Yet it’s rarely put that way– Andrew explains why he thinks that’s the case with another movie reference- Fight Club:
The first rule about classism is don’t talk about classism but if you have to talk about it, people, blame the poor people.
The issue of class and its implications has always been harder to distill. Andrew strives to break economic inequality down in a way that grounds it in the root issue of equality:
Millennials really care about the word equality…. but generally when our constituents talk about equality, it’s about equality issues that are essential and important, but ones that we are winning on.
Along those lines he notes the contradiction in the notion of being socially liberal and fiscally conservative and sees it as a concept that needs to be done away with:
If you are conservative on class you are as socially conservative as it gets.
Andrew’s objective is to turn the very issue of classism into an issue of equality. The Harry Potter Alliance has successfully galvanized its members on behalf of issues like LGBTQ equality and immigration, but economic equality historically has been harder to distill.
Class in the US is something that’s so vexing cause you’re not supposed to talk about it. Everybody has a very complex relationship to their own financial situation- but now that the situation has gotten so bad for students, and the job situation has gotten so bad- years later it’s allowing a real interest amongst millennials.
Towards that end, Andrew sees culture organizing, and organizing around fantasy specifically, as an important and overlooked tool that can and should be used by progressives far and wide. He hopes that the progressive organizations do more to meet the average 15 year-old halfway in a way that gets them excited about labor organizing. This campaign has already succeeded in creating all sorts of dynamic partnerships. The youtube video has well over 400,000 views and 12 union presidents have gotten involved.
And with groups like the AFL-CIO doubling down on the effort with a three finger salute from President Richard Trumka and a post on Buzzfeed that draws parallels between America’s reality and that as depicted by the “Hunger Games”.
Further, a post from Mugglenet.com- a cornerstone of the Harry Potter fandom universe- has even shouted out the effort:
We are not a Hunger Games fan site. However, we always support the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) when truths need to be told and fandoms need to move and rise together as one.
The Harry Potter Alliance is certainly onto something, if for no other reason than in these types of fictional stories the line between good and evil, us and and them, is drawn for us. There’s Harry and there’s Voldemort and one is heroic and interested in the greater good, the other murderous and self-interested. Our characters are handed to us flaws and all. It’s easy to identify who the good guys are and as a result it’s easy to root for them.
The problem with reality is the lines are perpetually blurred and it’s hard to tell who’s on what side. We want to believe in our policymakers and our leaders- and yet every time legislation gets passed that does more harm than good our faith is further shaken. Every time we’re greeted with a choice between, as Andrew stated, street lights and pensions as corporations are further insulated from regulation or responsibility, we’re left grappling to explain away the actions of our supposed heroes. Stories like The Hunger Games are grounded in the heroes emerging from the masses because they have no choice.
At some point it occurs to the collective that salvation lies in ourselves and in one another. As such, it becomes okay to see our leaders as different because they are. They have the power to make things better, and yet in a democracy like the one we have, if they fail to leverage that power, we have the power to remove them from their positions of leadership.
In that sense, we are the districts.
Writing in The LA Times about the campaign, Andrew touches on this even further:
If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, the same can be said of systemic economic inequality. The pull of the American dream is still so strong that many believe the only reasonable explanation for poverty is that it’s poor people’s fault. We don’t blame the system — and in Panem, you don’t blame the Capitol.
It’s not too late to turn this around.
To help Hack the Hunger Games visit www.wearethedistricts.tumblr.com