The BTS members all smile down on me from a framed photocard above my desk as I go about my work-related projects or Uni assignments. Next to my laptop is a Harry Potter book waiting to be reread. I’ve been in enough fandoms through the years – some I’ve left behind, some I still am a part of – to know the true power of fan bases and fans coming together. For me, though, the Potterheads and the ARMYs will always hold a special place in my heart.
Why? Simple, their activism and charity.
Henry Jenkins theorizes that fans are not consumers but active participants. ”In the old days,” he writes in The Future of Fandom, “the ideal consumer watched television, bought products, and didn’t talk back. Today, the ideal consumer talks up the program and spreads word about the brand. The old ideal might have been the couch potato; the new ideal is almost certainly a fan.”
But these two fandoms don’t just talk up and spread the word. One In An Army (OIAA) and the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) are two well-known charity organizations started by fans who have run over dozens of charity projects and raised millions for a better world.
OIAA: One In An Army
One In An ARMY, known as OIAA, name themselves a “fan collective of volunteers around the globe”. The charity project was started by a fan of BTS, also known as ARMY(an acronym for Adorable Representative MC for Youth) named Ana in March 2018.
BTS, or Bangtan Sonyeondan, is a seven-member group from Korea. The septet – Jin, RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook – raps, dances and sings beautiful songs all wrapped up in amazing, but complicated choreographies. Besides being amazing performers, they are also charitable people.
Ana tweeted out to see if any fans of BTS were interested in working on a project for the #ENDViolence, #BTSLoveMyself campaign or a Syrian relief project. The tweet went viral and within hours, a group of volunteers from around the world created One In An ARMY.
“Sometimes it amazes me how right we got things right from the start,” Louise, a staff at OIAA, tells me. “When we started OIAA, none of us had any experiences with anything similar, not fundraising, not fan projects, not projects in general. We identified what we wanted to do (i.e. organize our fandom to help others), problems we might face (i.e. trust), and came up with what we then thought was the best possible solution. And to this day I learn that things we made into our core values is usually the best way to go.”
Their motto, “I am ONE in an ARMY”, comes from the idea that if a large number of people will raise small amounts of money, it can create an impact. ”I don’t think those people understand the power of group mentality,” Louise tells me. “It is part of human nature to be a part of a group, a pack, and ARMY feel empowered when they accomplish things together. If you can only donate $1 towards a cause it might feel like you haven’t done anything, but when you look at the end result of a group fundraiser, suddenly there is $35 000 that can make a huge difference, and you were a part of it.” Louis continues, saying they want everyone to be able to join, “so we made sure that the fundraisers had low minimum donations, or showed other ways you could help people with non-monetary means (even if that person was yourself).”
“OIAA started because one ARMY felt helpless towards the problems she saw in the world, but felt that if we came together, maybe we could make a small difference.”Louise, staff at OIAA
OIAA acts as a mediator between the donors/fanbase and the organization, which means that they do not accept money for the campaigns. Transactions are solely handled by the non-profit. “Another one of our policies is that we support non-profits who offer tangible services. That way, instead of just showing a number, we can visualize what the donations can or will accomplish. It’s easier to fight towards a goal if you can see it. It also assures that the money donated is going towards what you intended, because you can clearly see the results.”
Below you can see some of ARMYs’ charity projects.
OIAA’s way of doing things is a little bit different. They always make sure that they “promote” the solution, and not the problem, as Louise tells me, “and with that, I don’t mean that we ignore the problem, because to solve certain things, you have to talk about what’s causing it to truly make a change. But if you’re just saying “this awful thing is happening, you should donate to change that” every month… it will take a toll on everyone involved. But if you instead say “if you donate to this we can make this happen which is great for people with this problem, it’s uplifting and empowering and can make you keep going.”
“All of this is something we decided over that first weekend, when OIAA was created,” Louise continues, “and a few months later a member showed a TED Talk about giving, and how they had found a formula of 5 motivators for giving, and we’d hit all 5.”
this is how we can change the world little by little
In June 2020, BTS, the South Korean septet group, tweeted their support for the BlackLivesMatter movement, stating “You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter”
우리는 인종차별에 반대합니다.— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) June 4, 2020
우리는 폭력에 반대합니다.
나, 당신, 우리 모두는 존중받을 권리가 있습니다. 함께 하겠습니다.
We stand against racial discrimination.
We condemn violence.
You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together.#BlackLivesMatter
On June 6, racial justice organization Black Lives Matter confirmed to Variety it had received a $1 million donation from BTS and its record label, Big Hit Entertainment. In 25 hours, the BTS fandom (dubbed ARMY) matched it. The fans trended #MatchAMillion and the charity organization and fanbase, One in an Army, who had already published a master thread on June 1 that allowed ARMY to donate to the organizations that promoted the BLM movement, took to promoting this hashtag as well.
In July 2020, Time magazine wrote a piece about how K-Pop Fandoms work as a force for activism. Millions of dollars in donations. Taking over racist hashtags on Twitter and drowning them with positive ones. Interferences at Trump rallies. Crashing a Dallas police app where people would post pictures of Black Lives Matter protesters.
This is just a small piece of what this fandom has achieved over the past years.
One In An Army started in 2018 and since then they have run over 30 campaigns, as you can see on their website. There is a big campaign running every month. There are also birthday campaigns that run the entire month of each members’ birthday month. The OIAA team is made of 20 ARMYs at the moment, some in their teens and some in their 40s, from 10 different countries. They also have volunteers who operate as translators or help with the suggestions of the next campaign.
Erika, a staff at OIAA, tells me that being a part of the team at OIAA and being an ARMY is about being part of something really meaningful that not only brings people together across nations and languages, but also helps people in the world that need help. “It’s something that we’re all doing together through the influence of BTS and our fellow ARMY, and the world is improved for someone a little each day because we do. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The process can take up to 1-2 months for a campaign to fully develop. They run polls, check-in with ARMYs, curate and research non-profits and then the team votes for their favorite. Then, they make contact with said non-profit and work out the details, asking for transparency and tangible results. They have a design team working on promo, a communications team getting in contact with BTS fan bases to spread the new campaign, a translating team, a web team that builds content around the new campaign and so much more. They use games, stories and all kinds of fun activities to make sure the word is spread around every corner of the BTS fandom. All of this is happening while they are also planning a future campaign at the same time.
Besides the monthly campaigns, they also have side projects they are working on and have worked on, like the Black Lives Matter campaign that wasn’t planned or the times they worked with organizations that have been supported by the show hosts James Corden and Jimmy Fallon after BTS had a blast being interviewed by them.
ARMY! Are you ready for #BTSWEEK on @FallonTonight?— (Semi Hiatus) One in an ARMY⁷ Butter²¹🧈 Project💜 (@OneInAnARMY) September 29, 2020
In true #BTSARMY tradition, to show thanks to @BTS_twt‘s gracious host, we have found 4 charities that @jimmyfallon chooses to support and have provided them for you in case you would like to show them a little ARMY love!💜
ARMYs, it seems, find any excuse to donate.
In 2021 alone, ARMYs have donated to over 90s organizations. From planting trees, donating blood, building schools, donating food and money to provide shelter for youth, while also donating to animal shelters, to disaster relief funds, breast cancer hospitals, and many more.
It is known that a fandom takes after its artist and it seems the BTS fandom has done just that. Erika tells me that’s not the case in every fandom. “I think a fandom can take after an artist, but not necessarily. Some fandoms are there purely to enjoy the art or are about the shared appreciation of a particular medium (books, film, etc) which don’t necessarily have to coordinate with the values or personality of the artist/creator. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever.”
BTS are also known for their charitable nature such as the members donating on their birthdays to orphanages or hospitals, or their 2017 #BTSLoveMyself anti-violence campaign with UNICEF, in which they donated a portion of their income from album sales and 100% of all profits from the sale of goods. They renewed their commitment to the campaign in 2021, donating $1 million. “However,“ Erika continues, “I think in ARMY’s case, it is a matter of mutual reflection. ARMYs are invested in BTS as people, and are drawn to the kind of art they make; BTS is openly intentional about creating something through their art that will help others. I think that’s something that inspires that tendency in the fans but also draws in fans for whom those things are important. BTS say they are inspired by ARMY as well, so it goes both ways.”
ARMY doesn’t do charity projects just to celebrate the artists, Erika tells me, but also to help the artists, whose mission is to help others. ARMYs are the type of people who enjoy helping others, which is why they support artists so strongly who do. “There are of course plenty of people who are fans for the music alone and that’s fine, but I think (in seeing the results every campaign) that a significant portion of ARMY are also ARMY because they love who BTS are and what they do with their platform, as well as loving the music they create and want to reflect that and pay it forward.”
In 2018, BTS stopped receiving gifts after the number of presents was too huge and some of the gifts began to be too ridiculous, like Rolex watches and gold bars. The fans then decided they will donate to charities as gifts for their birthdays.
ARMYs have always had projects for BTS birthdays, Erika tells me. Some were charity-based and some were things like billboard displays, cup sleeve events, etc. So after the Love Yourself campaign first launched, and charity work began to be more a part of ARMY culture, they wanted to make their campaigns also honor the guys’ birthdays.
“It has been exceptionally rewarding to see our celebrations of the guys’ birthdays result in people in places all around the world getting the help that they really need. Thanks to ARMY!”Erika, staff at OIAA
OIAA’s birthday campaigns run for the duration of the birthday month, each campaign being related somehow to each member’s likes and personality. “The first year, we chose the organizations ourselves, trying to find causes that we believed would be particularly meaningful for each member. After that, we brought ARMY in on the decision through polls and surveys to find out what our fandom would like to support for each member, and then we chose organizations based on those guidelines.”
And helping others is a beautiful way of celebrating one’s birthday.
OIAA loved all the campaigns and every one of them meant something more, but Louise tells me that she is particularly proud of the times when they came across organizations that were doing great work, but were struggling or even in danger of closing, and ARMY’s help was able to keep their doors open or get them something that they dearly needed to continue their work. “That sort of impact is so priceless, and being able to see what was accomplished just because a lot of people who love BTS decided to join together and help… there is nothing like that feeling.”
Their strictest rule has always been that they won’t accept money in any way and always make sure their fundraisers go directly to the non-profit. That way, people can feel safe donating with them, Louis says by the end. “But we didn’t stop there, we wanted people to feel safe when giving to these organizations, so we do as thorough research as we can on anything we share. Sometimes this frustrates people because we then can’t help when they want us to. But we have our rules for a reason and have been shown many times how bad it can go for those who are not as vigorous in making sure things they share are good as we are.”
On how the team conducts itself, Louis paints me a picture of the kind of people they are. “The other day I was in a video conference with people from the tourism industry in my local area where they spoke of how business interacts with their customers on social media and how important it is to act as you would in a real-life meeting. If someone says something simple as a thank you to you in real life, you don’t stay quiet, you reply. That has also been something we wanted to do from the beginning, reply to everyone who contacts us, even if it’s just a small thank you.” Even as their engagement has grown with their followers, they try to keep this promise of always sending a reply to anyone who contacts them, because after all, we’re all in this together.
HPA: Harry Potter Alliance
The HPA, or the Harry Potter Alliance, is a nonprofit organization run by Harry Potter fans, in case the name didn’t give it away. It was founded in 2005 by comedian Andrew Slack and the wizard rock band Harry and the Potters. Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy books written by British author J. K. Rowling.
The Harry Potter Alliance has chapters in more than 30 countries around the world, on six different continents. The HPA believes the best heroes are local heroes.
One of the first campaigns that they ran was when HPA partnered with Walmart Tech in order to educate fans about Walmart’s labour practices, uploading a series of YouTube videos about the “Dark Lord Waldemart”.
The organization relies heavily on wordplay. From creating a fandom podcast, PotterCast, to launching campaigns like What would Dumbledore Do or Accio Books! – if you haven’t seen the movies, Accio is the spell for summoning objects – HPA is smart in intertwining both the events that happened in the books with real-life issues that are happening in the world.
When asked about the process, Janae Phillips, Director of Leadership & Education at HPA, tells me they have seven broad focus areas like anti-racism, gender equity, LGBTQIA+ rights, the climate crisis, net neutrality, education and libraries, and youth advocacy. “We decide where to focus our attention by considering what issues are most timely, where we have strong opportunities for partnership with other organizations, how we see issues tying into media that has an active community of fans around it, and what our members are excited about.”
HPA has their toes in, like Janae said, a lot of issues.
For their podcast, PotterCast, they broadcasted a special edition called “Becoming Dumbledore’s Army: Harry Potter Fans for Darfur,” to educate fans about the genocide in Darfur. They partnered with STAND (student branch of the Genocide Intervention Network) and raised $15,000.
The Accio Books! campaign started in 2009. Since then, they have donated over 400,000 books across the world.
The HPA raised over $123,000 for Partners in Health In Haiti, which helped them to chart five planes full of medical supplies. The planes were named after the characters in the HP series.
Their partnership with Walk Free, which engaged over 400,000 fans, made Warner Bros. change the source of their Harry Potter chocolate to be 100% UTZ or Fairtrade. This resulted from their Deathly Hallows campaign, in which each month, HPA chose a different “Horcrux” (uhh, maybe you should read the books for this one!!), or injustice to work on. Some other Horcruxes they have worked on have been with ReachOut.com, in which their partnership fought the effects of depression, they have challenged harmful body images, worked with Splashlife to address the climate crisis and partnered with Marriage Equality Rhode Island and Gay-Straight Alliance on marriage equality.
In 2016, HPA launched the Neville Fights Back campaign, which is dedicated to resisting hate in communities, and Dumbledore’s Army Fights Back campaign, which was a movement dedicated to standing up for immigrants.
In 2017, the Harry Potter Alliance started A World Without Hermione, a movement dedicated to girls and their education. Their partnership with She’s the First helped raise $45,045.
Besides campaigns, HPA created Granger Leadership Academy, “the world’s first and only retreat for fan activists” as the alliance described it and Wizard Activist School where they offer free training in fan activism, how to run a meeting or host an event and leadership skills.
“I’ll speak for myself that the biggest lesson I’ve learned by organizing with the HPA is that the work doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be earnest. I think we have a tendency in our capitalist culture to conceptualize organizing in the same way we think about business, with a need for polished products, when in reality the very best organizing work is co-constructed in community and built in such a way that it is accessible to everyone. The more you can put aside perfectionism in favor of building relationships, the better your organizing becomes.”, says Janae Phillips.
It’s hard not to be left impressed and in awe with the kind of work HPA has been doing since 2005. I asked Janae if she thinks kindness and generosity is our muggle kind of magic and she didn’t disapprove. “I think kindness coupled with a willingness to fight for each other is where the magic happens, and that’s what we see in so many of the heroes and stories we take inspiration from.”
In 2016, HPA launched Protego (which in the books is a powerful shield spell), a campaign dedicated to empower and provide resources and safe spaces for transgender people. They partnered with National Center for Transgender Equality, in which activists completed actions to support the trans community and spoke up to get gender-neutral bathrooms.
Regarding what’s the next thing in store, Janae tells me there is a big change happening shortly. “We’re excited to both honor our long history of work in other fandoms and continue to broaden our community by changing our name! You can expect to see our big rebrand announced this June.”
So why am I telling you all this?
There have been countless studies and articles about how fandoms can be toxic and hurtful. People have talked about the sheep mentality and the so-called dumb fangirls. It’s well known that in every community, every fandom, there are always two sides to a story.
And sometimes this side I just painted above for you to see, wins.