Jeff Frazee is executive director of Young Americans for Liberty, described on its website (www.yaliberty.org) as “the largest, most active, and fastest-growing pro-liberty organization on America's college campuses.” Jeff served as national youth coordinator for Ron Paul's 2008 Presidential Campaign Committee. Prior to that, Jeff worked as a deputy campus services coordinator for the Leadership Institute and interned for Ron Paul's congressional office in the summer of 2005. He is a graduate of Texas A&M, class of 2005, with a degree in telecommunications & media studies and a minor in political science. In this interview, Jeff sat down with FEE president Lawrence Reed.
The Freeman: Tell us something of your personal intellectual odyssey. How did you come to be a passionate, full-time advocate for liberty? What, or who, first turned the light on in your mind?
Frazee: I grew up in a conservative family, and it wasn’t until I was in college and survived President Bush that I started having an interest in politics. My roommate said to me, “You may be a libertarian,” and not knowing what that was, I started researching online. I started reading books and then attended the Libertarian Party Texas State Convention my sophomore year. From there, I got connected with the 2004 Michael Badnarik for President campaign and volunteered with his media team. Quickly, I became his national media coordinator and started booking all the media interviews for a presidential candidate. I thought it was so cool! Then, this led to my discovery of Ron Paul. So I applied for an internship with his Washington, D.C., office, and thanks to my work experience on the Badnarik campaign, I was accepted. From there, the rest is history. Dr. Paul ran for president in 2008. I did everything I could to persuade the campaign to hire me as their national youth coordinator. I was eventually successful and out of the Students for Ron Paul effort, I started Young Americans for Liberty. As for my intellectual odyssey, it has been the result of reading. When you are first wrapping your head around this philosophy, it’s so much fun because the world starts making sense. But once I was able to tackle Man, Economy, and State by Murray Rothbard, I knew there was no going back.
The Freeman: As YAL’s executive director from the organization’s inception, you’ve been on the ground floor of its explosive growth. Give us some of the numbers that illustrate that growth—chapters, membership, social media engagement, etc.
Frazee: Since our founding in December 2008, we’ve experienced continual growth every semester. Currently we have over 525 campus chapters with a national network of 182,000 activists. Our mission is to identify, educate, train, and mobilize youth activists committed to winning on principle. So we look to take the principles of liberty and learn to win with them in the political process. Every program we offer can be derived from our mission. We identify young leaders and organize them into chapters; we educate students on the principles of liberty; we train our activists to be effective in their work; and we mobilize our top leaders into the political process to change policy and impact the direction of our country. On Facebook, every week we engage between 10 and 20 million individuals with our content. It’s incredible the reach you can have on social media. So the numbers we’ve been able to achieve in such short time are a testament to how quickly our ideas are becoming popular with the younger generations. It’s an exciting time to be working with young Americans.
The Freeman: Thanks for occasionally posting things from FEE on the YAL Facebook page! I hope you will encourage your members to “like” the FEE page and also mine. Also, if your chapter members would like free copies of our recent book, please encourage them to request them here.
Frazee: Count on it! FEE is a fantastic source of great content, which not only YAL draws from, but everybody else in the movement as well. Thanks to you personally for speaking at YAL events, including our upcoming national convention in August. We especially appreciate your emphasis on the connection between liberty and character, which is fast becoming a well-known and unique aspect of FEE’s brand.
The Freeman: You obviously are offering something that students are seeking and place value on. How do you explain those impressive numbers—especially with more than 160,000 Facebook fans now, four times what you had a year or so ago with little or no paid advertising?
Frazee: Recruitment. Recruitment. Recruitment. With everything we do, we stress the importance of growing our movement and reaching new students with our message. Students are hungry for change. First there was Bush, and now there’s Obama. Both have failed our generation and young people are seeking an alternative. Libertarianism is on the rise right now as a result. It’s the “cool” political philosophy on campuses, and young people want to learn more about it. We’re trying to do our best just to capitalize on the interest and expose young people to the ideas. Also, before YAL there wasn’t much of a campus infrastructure to distribute our message. You certainly never heard about libertarianism in the classroom, so there wasn’t an active campus presence to introduce you to the philosophy. Our goal is just to plant the seed—get the gears turning in students’ heads. And if we can get students asking the right questions and interested in learning more, then there are so many resources available online that just take a simple Google search to explore more.
You’re right about our Facebook numbers. We haven’t spent a dime on advertising. All of our growth has been organic, and as a result, our followers are much more active than pages that have four and five times as many fans as we do. From the beginning, our Facebook content has been driven by our analytics. We try to give our audience what they want, what they like, and what they share the most. As a result, we’ve seen steady growth in our fans. And compare the “engagement” we get in terms of likes, shares and comments—they’re off the charts and way ahead of other pages that have more “fans” but get them through paid ads.
The Freeman: Can you describe some of YAL’s most notable successes, in perhaps a couple sentences each?
Frazee: I don’t want to take up too much space, but I’ll run through a few. First, I think our most important accomplishment is our network. The infrastructure we’ve been able to build on more than 525 campuses provides our entire movement a great benefit. So, when an organization wants to host a program on a campus or distribute materials, we can provide them with a point of contact and likely a strong leader who can be a reliable partner. Second, our electoral impact has been measurable. We mobilized more than 170 YAL members to Kentucky during Senator Rand Paul’s campaign. After his victory, he even said that it was YAL volunteers who provided the energy and ground support to get out to vote and push him to a win. Third, the young leaders we’ve been able to train and develop have gone onto big things. We’ve helped place hundreds of young people on campaigns, within think tanks, on Capitol Hill, and throughout the liberty movement. In time, I have no doubt we’ll see former YAL members leading organizations, making important policy decisions, and changing the direction of our country.
The Freeman: I might add that some of the best summer interns we’ve had at FEE in recent years have been activists in both Young Americans for Liberty and Students for Liberty. We’re thrilled to be able to offer those opportunities to such bright and promising young people, who also come to our programs by the hundreds in the summer and during the academic year. What issues do you see as most important to students in YAL over the next two or three years?
Frazee: Privacy is quickly becoming very important. Every young person is on the Internet and their mobile phone. As we learn more and more about the sheer size of data collection being performed by the NSA, more young people wake up. The famous phrase in politics is, “No one really cares about politics until it affects you.” Well, our loss of privacy is affecting everyone, and it’s nearly universal that young people oppose it. The scarier thought is what happens next. Right now, the NSA is just collecting the data. Soon, they’ll start using the data and running algorithms to identify behaviors. That’s when it could get very tyrannical. But we see students join YAL because of all kinds of issues. The beauty is that liberty is a holistic message, and once you grasp the principles you can find an answer to every political issue.
The Freeman: I think our readers would want to know more about your personal life. I know, for instance, that you and your wife recently had your first child. Are you a workaholic or are you able to take your work hat off at home?
Frazee: We did have our first child, William, on March 20. He has been a tremendous blessing to us. I never knew how much fun a little boy could be even at such a young age. He’s a few months old now and starting to develop his basic skills. It’s a joy to wake up every day and watch him learn something new. Also, my wife and I actually met while I was interning for Congressman Ron Paul. She was his staff assistant, so needless to say, I owe much in my life to Dr. Paul. Fortunately, she’s a true believer as well, so she understands my busy schedule and gives me exceptional grace with my time. Another wonderful thing about being married to a libertarian is we agree on pretty much everything politically, so rarely do we even discuss politics at home. It gives us both a break and allows us to spend time focused on our family. And sports! She loves sports, too. I know! I really lucked out with the perfect wife.
The Freeman: Has FEE been an influence on you or the organization?
Frazee: FEE has been a wonderful partner to YAL. Not only have you, Larry, been an extraordinary friend and always willing to give of yourself for our programs, but the entire FEE organization has been a helpful resource. You have provided us with endless numbers of books, pamphlets, and educational materials for our campus chapters to distribute; you have sent us speakers for our events; and you have sponsored our state and national conventions. For me, “I, Pencil” is still one of the most compelling arguments for free markets, and I’m still waiting to find an opportunity to attend a FEE seminar. I know FEE had a life-changing impact on Dr. Paul as well when he was young, and without that who knows where our movement would be today. So the influence and benefit FEE provides is immense. I really cannot thank you and your team enough for the exceptional work over the many years.
The Freeman: YAL has a political arm that is not tax deductible and an educational one that is, right? If an organization or business or foundation wanted to support you, what are the ways in which they could do so?
Frazee: I am glad you asked! YAL actually is comprised of three organizations: a tax-deductible 501(c)3 educational foundation (which most of our activities fall under), a non tax-deductible 501(c)4 political non-profit (which gives us more freedom in the political process), and an affiliate political action committee (so we can endorse and bundle money for pro-liberty candidates). If you are interested in supporting one (or all three!) you can go to our website, www.YALiberty.org, to donate and learn more. We could certainly use the help at the rate we are growing.
The Freeman: Tell us about your upcoming national convention in August. Can donors sponsor students who need assistance to attend?
Frazee: Every year we host our annual national convention at the end of July, and every year the attendance has grown. But unlike other conferences, our national convention is invitation only. Hundreds of activists apply, but only a select handful actually get accepted. We do this because the four-day event is mostly an advanced-level campus and campaign training. Generally, only our top leaders from each YAL chapter are invited. So we are looking to train and develop the best of the best, so they can take the lessons learned at our national convention and teach their members back at their campuses. This year, we anticipate more than 300 attendees from more than 200 campuses and all 50 states to join us. I’m still in awe when I rattle off those numbers, because our size and impact has exceeded even my high expectations when YAL was merely a hope and a dream.
The Freeman: Thanks, Jeff, for the great work that you and YAL are doing. Any final thoughts to share with our readers?
Frazee: Be optimistic and have faith. My generation is intrigued by the ideas of freedom. There are many incredible young leaders who are much smarter than me already taking on leadership roles and growing up through the ranks. The old authoritarian ideas are dying off. New technologies and ambitious entrepreneurs are already solving problems that replace government inefficiencies. And if you are interested in being a part of this revolution, please sign up and/or donate at www.YALiberty.org.