Interview with DxE Lisbon's Andreia Carvalho Mota
By Saryta Rodriguez
Andreia Carvalho Mota is one of the founding organizers of DxE Lisbon, and she and others at Acção Directa have been doing some phenomenal work. Learn about the group’s founding, its goals, and upcoming events below! Thank you so much, Andreia, for taking the time to share your experience with The Liberationist.
DxE: Please tell us a bit about how you first became involved in veganism and animal liberation.
ACM: At the age of 20, I started thinking about going vegetarian, but I was not well informed about animal exploitation so I comfortably kept to my lifestyle. I was pretty sensitive, since I was a little girl, to all those animals issues (like bullfights) and to every social injustice. I used to think about a lot of questions all of the time. “Why should animals die to fill my plate? There are vegetarians in the world; if they can do it, so can I!” Unfortunately, thinking this way wasn’t enough at that time for me to change.
When I turned 26, I started attending bullfights protests almost every week. Then I met several activists and I made the connection between the cruel entertainment I was ferociously against and the food industry. So I cut the animals out of my meals, started doing volunteer work and, gradually, I cultivated myself: reading, watching documentaries, learning from my fellow activist friends, and understanding how easy and positive turning to veganism really is.
Once I realized that nonhuman animals are not ours to be used for any purpose, I became vegan. Melanie Joy was also an important influence to me, even if I was already vegan for a while before I learned about her work. I learnt from her how to better deal with carnists or nonvegans, which is definitely the biggest challenge for me. I also realized how environmental and other human issues are connected to veganism, so it was like the perfect change in my life.
I found myself really inspired by some activists along this path. I’m very honored to know such greats activists, most of whom are also my friends.
I reached veganism through activism and became a more solid and strong activist since I went vegan. I used to say that first of all, I’m an activist, and then I am a vegan. You can be a vegan without doing anything more. Being an activist means everything to me. Veganism is clearly not enough.
In the last five years, animal liberation has become a clear goal. I realized that no one is free until all are free and this is a question of social justice. I understand how tough it is to break an oppressive system, but it is possible and there is good news: we are getting there!
DxE: How did you hear about DxE? What factor(s) caused you to identify with the group and inspired you to start your own chapter?
ACM: I heard about DxE through my friend Vítor Magalhães, who has ‘liked’ a DxE publication and then Priya got in touch with him, asking if we would like to make a DxE chapter in Portugal. At that time, I was in an activist group called actiVismo along with Vítor and he put us in contact with Priya, who explained what DxE does and asked if there were any of us who wanted to be a main organizer. I watched the videos about DxE and I accepted to be the main organizer and, along with Vítor, we have created the DxE core in Lisbon.
I left actiVismo and I started a new group, Acção Directa, along with Vítor, and a new chapter in my activism life. I was strongly inspired by DxE actions, it was a sort of a strange feeling because it was like: “Well…maybe that will not work…maybe that’s too much,” along with ‘That’s the thing!’ I didn’t think I was able to do those kinds of actions. I was definitely inspired by the coherence, the assertiveness, the passion, the brilliant attitude of Wayne and Priya, but I doubted at the same time that I would be capable. However, they raised my confidence.
As the movement grew, I felt inspired by all the other DxE activists and I was totally sure that we were trying a different approach but a valid one. Since then, Acção Directa has grown and now we are a five-member group! We were so lucky to find such amazing and motivated activists. Besides me and Vítor, Ana Maria Santos, Anne Matias and Sandra Marina belong to AD.
I read a lot about nonviolent direct action and when it has been applied in the past. The Animal Liberation Movement needs different ways and tactics. There is no magical formula to do the best activism. So it is important to recognize that we are always learning. Honestly, the movement calls for a revolutionary approach, never forgetting to focus on the victims we defend.
DxE: Tell us a bit about your first action. How many people showed up? What was your game plan? Did things go as expected, or were there any surprises in store for you?
ACM: The first action was in February 2014. We were six people doing the action, plus another two recording it. We heard about DxE only the week before, so we were unsure of what were supposed to do. We went to McDonalds and, in silence, we showed our signs saying “Não é Comida, É Violência!” (“It’s not Food, Its Violence!”). We didn’t have a plan. We spent about half an hour sitting in a nearby shopping mall and talking about what to do. So it was a pretty spontaneous action. A customer called the manager, but by then we were already leaving. The other actions have been different. We started speaking and trying to involve more activists as speakers. In the beginning, we were really trying to find ourselves.
DxE: What is the AR scene like in Lisbon, and do you collaborate with other groups for certain events/campaigns?
ACM: The AR scene in Lisbon is growing and winning its own identity. Nowadays we are finding more activism groups proliferating throughout the country. Until recently, it was only the biggest organization for animal rights, ANIMAL, that was responsible for driving actions. Now I feel people more aware of their abilities and power as activists and that they can’t always expecting ANIMAL to organize everything. Each of us can and should be active, and inspire others.
Before I create Acção Directa, I use to collaborate as a volunteer in ANIMAL and now in Acção Directa we establish partnerships with other groups. For instance, we organized a protest against a movie which used animals, along with the platform “Cidadãos pelos Circos sem Animais” and now we will synchronize an international action called Empty the Tanks in June, with Porto Pelos Animais e Algarve Pelos Animais.
We are also working in the organization of Veganario, an annual vegan festival. Last year we heard that this festival was not going to happen and then we encouraged them to do it with our help. We joint strengths and now we are working hard.
DxE: What are some of the challenges DxE Lisbon faces? How are you typically received by consumers, restaurant and market owners, and/or the police in your home city? In other parts of Portugal?
ACM: I think the main challenges are still the development of our actions, how we film them since filming people is forbidden by law in our country, it is consider a crime.
We have so much to learn yet but with no doubt that we are facing a troubled speciesist reality that has a more prominent focus in a country like Portugal. We still deal with strong discrimination against so many social groups that animal rights are seen as a minor problem. However, we are seeing people grow more concerned and conscious about nonhuman animals, day by day, step by step.
Consumers don’t usually behave aggressively towards us. Sometimes we hear some unpleasant stuff, but nothing that bothers us too much. Market owners and managers politely ask us to leave. Police never appear, which is great. We organize two different actions every month: one is an external one with a public event and the other is an internal one where we protect ourselves and don’t post our event publicly in order to avoid problems with authority.
In the externals ones, we try to create visually appealing demos and deliver leaflets with assertive information. Being straight to the point in those flyers could be really useful. We don’t yet have other DxE chapters in Portugal, only in Lisbon, but we strongly encourage people to make them!
DxE: Please share with us one truly inspiring moment you’ve experienced as an organizer with DxE Lisbon.
ACM: I would not say there was a specific moment, but I was really happy to know from a person I interact in an action, that he became vegan after knowing us and talking with me. Now he is attending our protests and supports the Animal Liberation Movement. Also, after my Disrupt Speciesism challenge, I received a message in my inbox from another person asking me to help with his transition to veganism and declaring that he felt truly inspired by my action. That was so awesome!
DxE: How do you and other organizers go about strengthening the DxE Lisbon community? What are some events you organize and attend together, besides nonviolent direct actions?
ACM: We founded the Lisbon DxE but we also organize other kind of actions. We don’t restrict our domain areas to food campaigns. Whenever we have resources and availability, we organize other awareness actions. We started with anti-captivity demonstrations simultaneously with our first DxE actions: protests against zoos, against whale and dolphin massacre, against wild and companion animals treated like objects, and, as I mentioned before, we held a demonstration against the shooting in Portugal of the movie, O Grande Circo Místico.
This movie used animals in a circus and was funded with taxpayer money. It was amazing because we were received by the Culture Secretary and allowed to share our position. We are also developing campaigns to boycott the movie. Also, we have the snail’s awareness campaign, when we ask people a simple question: “Would you like to be boiled alive?” We are trying to bring people together in these kinds of ideas because the impact we will be larger.
We welcome other activists’ actions, and we are happy to attend and support it, whenever we agree with them.
DxE: Aside from our common goal of achieving animal liberation, what are some of DxE Lisbon’s short-term goals? Are there any actions, publications, or community events coming up about which you’re particularly excited?
ACM: We are always trying to be update and working hard to spread veganism. In a short-term we emphasize the importance of being more connected, to strengthen our community and to inspire people to join us and do it more for the animals. Even if they don’t identify with our actions but at a certain point they feel inspired to build their own group, would be great. In a minor scale, we want to create our own site or blog. I always thought of creating something different about “why you must go vegan.” I have a structure on my mind, it just takes some time and effort.
Well, we are organizing next 22th and 23th of May a Vegan Fair, an event of Veganario, the festival I mentioned above. Our Empty the Tanks synchronized action is also taking our attention. We are planning to host a demonstration with kids, where they will be with their parents staging an animal’s released from captivity to oceans. It’s a different thing and will compromise several other details.
DxE: I’m sure you are familiar with DxE’s Five Organizing Principles. Will you share with us briefly what one of them means to you? Why do you think that principle is important, and what steps can activists take to truly uphold it?
ACM: The first one, TOTAL ANIMAL LIBERATION, is clearly the root of our abolitionist movement, we are fighting against discrimination and this affects human and nonhuman animals alike. Speciesism mentally blocks people in such an anthropocentric way that they are unable to see the obvious: we are speaking about fundamental rights, respect and non-exploitation.
About DIRECT ACTION, I think everyone could do something for the animals, could proudly and confident says what is right and what is wrong, especially inside places who sell violence. We must be original and brave whenever we take a stance for animals, the movement is thrusting for new approaches.
TELLING STORIES increases empathy and lets people put themselves in the animal’s position.
COMMUNITY is quite important when you are trying to build something different and strong. You don’t get anything if you don’t have support and whatever is the way you choose to spread the message, the tides are changing.
If we don’t have a clear DREAM of what we are fighting for, what is the purpose of fighting?
DxE: Based on your experience organizing, do you have advice for other animal rights organizers in the DxE network or the animal rights movement at large?
ACM: For the animal rights movement at large, I would like to say that there is no magical formula to do activism. People use to be so critical about certain approaches when they don’t really know the impacts of each of them at all. The most important thing is to be confident and assertive whenever we speak and fight for the animals. Remember that we are on the “right side of the river” and this should give you security and peace. Try to be gentle, yet firm, when you deal with non-vegans. Focus on what you can do and not on what you can’t; no matter what, you are planting seeds.
Focus on the animals— you are doing this for them, not for you. It is easy to lose control, to personalize any fight, to not empathize with every animal right activists, but this is not about you. I am also gradually learning. I think Dr. Melanie Joy is a great activist who has taught me a lot and who could guide us better in some emotional ups and downs.
For all the animal lovers, DxE organizers and activists who have doing a great job, keep going, dreaming and inspiring. Things are clearly changing.