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Cultural Acupuncture and a Future for Social Change

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What if we gave our teenagers the opportunity to imagine themselves as the heroes that they have grown up watching, rather than treating their precious minds as nothing more than a way to line the pockets of some CEO?

Enter the Harry Potter Alliance. Praised by J.K. Rowling, Paul Farmer, the mainstream press, and a slew of human rights organizations, the Harry Potter Alliance is like nothing else. We ask more than 100,000 online fans who grew up reading the books if they've ever wished Harry Potter is real; our answer is that it kind of is. The need for students to be activists (Harry starting "Dumbledore's Army") and focus on the exploitation of workers (House Elves), discrimination (toward Muggleborns and werewolves), media consolidation (when the Daily Prophet does not cover the real issues), and incompetency of those in power (when the Ministry ignores Voldemort's return) is just as pressing here as it is in the Wizarding World.

By taking the example of Harry and his friends, together we have saved thousands of lives. From small donations, we have raised over $123,000 for Haiti (sending five cargo planes named after Harry Potter characters), donated over 55,000 books to the Mississippi Delta, a youth village in Rwanda, and communities in need throughout the world, and made a long list of truly significant contributions to the various movements to end genocide, homophobia, and media consolidation. With over 60 chapters and well over 40 volunteer staff that clock hundreds of hours per week, the Harry Potter Alliance is going strong.

But this is just the beginning, a warm up act, a demonstration of what I call "cultural acupuncture." In short, cultural acupuncture is finding where the psychological energy is in the culture, and moving that energy towards creating a healthier world. We started with "Harry Potter," one of the most popular and well-read works of fiction, and from there we have begun working with fan communities of various books, T.V. shows, movies, and YouTube celebrities. Imagine people working to end global warming, racism, and genocide as energetically as they flock to movies. Imagine them walking out of Avatar with an organization that says, "Here's how we can band together to protect Pandora by fighting the 'Sky People' in the Coal Industry."

Our world is currently saturated by clever ads that say things like "Be A Hero. Eat (insert the name of artificially flavored cheese that probably causes cancer in both mice and humans)." We're all inundated with these weird messages while the real Super Villains, in the form of "Global Warming," "Genocide," and "Homophobia," are literally getting away with murder. Harry Potter, Batman, and Luke Skywalker did not waste their time, energy, and resources fighting to wear the sneakers of their favorite athlete, so why should we?

Perhaps our potential is more subtle, but all of us are heroes on this journey. In a world where true horrors are ignored by mass marketing, it's time to market a movement of mass heroism. A marketing campaign that goes beyond the importance of a brand of soap and instead focuses on a brand of becoming something bigger than ourselves, something that matters because it speaks to the higher nature of who we truly are on this interdependent planet, where each one of us plays an indispensable role.

We activists may not have the same money as Nike and McDonald's but we have a message that actually means something, the power of new media to communicate that message and invite each of us to truly "Be A Hero." What we do not have is the luxury of keeping the issues we cover seemingly boring, technocratic, and inaccessible. With cultural acupuncture, we will usher in an era of activism that is fun, imaginative, and sexy, yet truly effective. Now is our chance to connect to all people through the power of myth: to embrace our traveling into the dark and ancient woods of the human unconscious, into the elusive realities behind why human beings told stories to our kin in their caves, our children in their cribs, our brethren around our fire pits, and our mass communities within movie theaters.

The Harry Potter Alliance, this first demonstration in a social movement of "cultural acupuncture," is currently competing for $250,000 in the Chase Bank Community Giving Competition. As we are close to first place, we are excited by the possibility that we will finally have the funding required for us to harness the energy of popular culture so that we can profoundly affect how we all approach changing the world.

As my favorite author, J.K. Rowling, once said, "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." Indeed we do and the Harry Potter Alliance and our growing movement is striving to imagine activism better every day.