The life of local activist and political leader Carmen Llanes Pulido is one of community service.


By Brandi Clark Burton, Photo courtesy of Carmen Llanes Pulido

Carmen Llanes Pulido was an obvious choice to interview for this column in a month where the focus is social change, with an emphasis on social justice, activism and advocacy. She’s shown impressive development as a community organizer, nonprofit professional and community servant for two decades. In recognition of this month’s topic, she took time to reflect on her journey and her accomplishments.

You were exposed to and involved in organizing work quite young, weren’t you?

Yes. I was born in Austin. From an early age, I watched my parents get involved in many community issues ranging from neighborhood negotiations around the development of downtown to cultural arts, to the environmental justice and anti-Persian Gulf War movements. What I witnessed was people coming together, whether it was local issues or global issues, and making a difference. Particularly at the local level, I saw that a few people can really change the trajectory of things. A constant thread in my experience in Austin has been that even people who disagree on a lot of issues can come together on something they agree on and care about enough, and they can really make a difference. Austin has a highly engaged electorate. Civic engagement is a great strength and a great resource.

What issues are on your mind these days?

Growth and planning and climate resilience. They really need to be approached holistically with a broad spectrum of experts at the table who can inform things from different angles.

You’ve spent a decade with Go Austin/Vamos Austin (GAVA). What does it do?

We organize with people who live, work and worship in North, Central, South and Southeast Austin where rates of chronic disease are really high. Work with people to improve parks and green spaces to increase access to healthy food. We also engage people around public investments in their neighborhoods, infrastructure, facilities and, most recently, climate resilience, like drainage infrastructure and green space and the things that protect people from flooding. We’ve also gotten really involved in land use discussions because we’re concerned about the displacement of residents.

What work have you done that you feel has impacted the lives of people in Austin?

Through my work with GAVA in the community, I feel the impact of our work every day. I see leadership among residents who previously didn’t get involved. During the pandemic we were able to provide opportunities for people to work. I celebrate the collective success when a playground or public lighting comes in and you see people enjoying their built environment.

What work are you currently excited about?

GAVA has convened an incredibly diverse group of people from Austin’s eastern crescent to develop a cooperative community-owned grocery service that can bring culturally accessible, healthy and affordable food to these parts of town. We’re supporting them to incorporate and become a vehicle for community investment.

What’s something people don’t know about you?

Through my work with GAVA over the last decade-plus, I’ve been published in a number of academic journals. I’ve become pretty seasoned as an applied researcher working with academics in not only public health but also architecture, geosciences and public policy. This blend of interacting with these content experts as well as community and public policy has really informed the way that I think about these issues that face us now.

What makes you effective as a community leader?

What helps is that I am so rooted in the real-time issues and struggles of people all over the city but also incredibly connected to a wide array of content experts. I know how to leverage public-private funding and opportunities and missions with initiatives in a way that makes things happen.


Consider This!

Steps on Carmen Llanes Pulido’s path toward training an impact leader

Became an EPA-supported Young Scholar for Justice at 20 years old with PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources).

Graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in environmental sciences and free trade policy from University of Chicago.

Joined the Green for All Fellowship in Oakland in 2011, focused on the green economy as a solution for climate change and economic justice for communities that have dealt with disinvestment and pollution.

Served as a Fulcrum Fellow in the Center for Community Investment at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in 2019 and 2020, where she learned more about community investment, racial equity and adaptive leadership.

Spent 10 years serving on the City of Austin boards for the Planning Commission, Latino Quality of Life and the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (10-1).



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