Their first-ever international conference -- Echelon: The Gathering 2012 -- was held in Lisbon, Portugal from March 31 to April 1 and we caught up with the organizers, Rita Guerra, 31, from Portugal(@SunshineEchelon) and Cathy Lesko, 20, from Hungary (@cathyleszko) to get the inside deets on this rad rendezvous of the band's most passionate followers.
Some 150 Echelon from 22 countries including Qatar, Lebanon, Romania, U.S., Australia, and U.K. headed to Portugal in the biggest event ever for the band's fans. The agenda included presentations like "The Echelon – What does it mean to belong?" and "Mars saved my life – an Echelon's story" (more on that below!) plus an entire session completely focused on the mystery and magic behind the symbols like the "triad" used on 30STM album covers and swag. Yeah, these kids went DEEP into some Martian mythology, y'all.
But what's really impressive is how deep they dug when it came to giving back. This Is A Call To Arms (a one-stop shop for all charity-related 30STM endeavors) and The Echelon House (building homes with Habitat for Humanity) were in attendance to share their positive impact plans plus the conference itself donated 622 euros to a local Portuguese animal rescue association as well as 500 euros to other non-profit projects. And oh yeah, the Life on Mars crew also sponsored a baby tiger in Lisbon's Zoo-- how friggin adorbs is that?! Learn more about this inspiring gathering in our Q&A with Rita below-- and then take Action with The Echelon below!
ACT: So why did you choose Portugal as the location for the conference?
RITA: We had an online poll with 12 European cities and Lisbon won. Because this had never been done before, we had the poll going for several months. First, from August 23rd to October 15th; then, we chose the 5 top cities and had the vote open till December 1.
ACT: How did you get Shannon Leto to DJ at the conference? That's so cool!
RITA: We first approached Shannon directly in Amnéville [in France] on November 19, in the meet & greet after the show. I asked him if he and Antoine would do an after party for the Conference and he was interested and told me to contact his manager. Later on, when the city was decided, I contacted Positiva Agency, which had arranged for a previous after party with them in 2011. They were interested in having a party following the conference and we reached an agreement and worked together.
ACT: Y'all focused on animal welfare for your charity efforts at the conference with the local rescue group and baby tiger sponsorship at the Lisbon Zoo. Why was that?
RITA: We are particularly sensitive to animals in this time of crisis. The baby tiger was sponsored not by the Conference but by Life on Mars group (which I'm part of) because it is an endangered species and support for the Lisbon Zoo is more needed now, with the country in a deep recession. I told the band about it in the Paris Meet & Greet on November 12 and Tomo [lead guitarist for 30SM] said he himself had sponsored a number of animals, which made me very happy. I offered Jared the name card of the tiger's sponsor that the Zoo gave us, which is registered as "EchelonPortugal"
ACT: This session sounded really intense: "Mars saved my life – an Echelon's story" -- can you tell us more about Lovisa Wallin's story?
RITA: Lovisa gave a very emotional speech, one that people truly admired. She was in a very dark place a couple of years ago, absolutely on the verge of doing something really bad to herself. No self-confidence whatsoever, no hope in the future, a truly unhappy person, not even capable of traveling. Mars and the Echelon changed everything for her. Gave her a sense of purpose, and a sense of not being alone, belonging to something. I have seen her transformation, from someone who was afraid to talk to someone to a person who traveled alone to New York to go to Mars 300 and someone who is even considering moving to the States and leave her homeland to pursue her dreams. She went from that dark place to being full of light, and I have never seen someone transform this way. Her love for the band is amazing. And this is not the first person I’ve seen transform their life 180 degrees because of 30 Seconds to Mars. Me included.
ACT: Why do you think The Echelon always puts so much emphasis on giving back and making a difference?
RITA: The band encourages us to do so. The second album A Beautiful Lie really made an impact in our conscientiousness; plus the emphasis is on follow your dreams, never give up, leave a mark in this world. In the last show of 2011, in the Church of St Peter's in New York, Jared made us all kneel down and make a promise to ourselves: that we would follow our dreams no matter what, have deep real relationships, go that extra mile. In the meet and greet, me and Lovisa told him how we met and he said: "that's what you need to do, keep having adventures together even when we are not around". We are so grateful for everything the band and the Echelon gave us, we want to give back.