Last November, the Tiger Town Observer hosted speaker Lindsay Hayes, Co-Founder and CEO of Free the Facts, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that educates young Americans about the public policies that directly impact their lives. The event hosted on Clemson’s campus focused on Medicare and its effect on young Americans today. At the event, the speakers stressed a commitment to educating young people on policy without an underlying political bias. The Tiger Town Observer Editor in Chief, Emily Cope, and Managing Editor, Brigid Alvis, had the opportunity to interview Ms. Hayes before the event. Ms. Hayes spoke about the mission of Free the Facts as well as her own background and role in founding it.
TTO Staff: Could you start off with a brief background about you and your career?
Hayes: I think I have two tracks that relate to my role in Free the Facts. I received my Masters and PhD from the University of Maryland in Political Communication and I taught there for over a decade. Alongside that, I wrote speeches and opeds for people. In 2012 I worked on the presidential campaign. After that, I decided to pull back from politics. I think it’s important for people involved in politics to stop trying to convince people of things and to sit back and listen. I wanted to start a family and allow myself to step back and look at things for a bit. This opportunity allowed me to get involved with Free the Facts.
TTO Staff: Could you tell us about your role in founding Free the Facts and your position now?
Hayes: Yes, I am part of a founding team. We founded the organization in late 2016. It started with a donor, who is not political but was a small business owner for multiple small businesses. He was concerned about the financial state of the country. He saw many big crises in the nation that were not getting talked about but had a big effect on people’s lives. He saw this particularly in the 14-35 age group.
TTO Staff: What were your goals in founding this organization and in what ways does Free the Facts educate and serve its audiences?
Hayes: The mission that we had was purely educational. The idea was to go out and provide people with reliable information about the policies and programs that are going to impact them over the course of their lives, and that they’re going to be asked to weigh in on as voters or leaders. It’s grown substantially, and now we have a leadership component. We also try to identify the people who are emerging leaders and figure out how to get them the resources and the training to make a difference going forward.
TTO Staff: Finding reliable information is definitely challenging. Where does Free the Facts find resources for the information it provides students and how is it screened before being presented?
Hayes: We have many experts that we work with. They come from think tanks, universities, government, and other backgrounds. We then go to them and ask for a brief, concise overview of the key points someone would need to understand this issue and ask them what they think is the most reliable source of information. We go to the people that study and are experts in these fields. They help us navigate the information. Next, we put together these presentations and pilot them to make sure people understand them. The final step involves a policy advisory board. This board is chaired by one person and there are three people on the left and three people on the right. We present our work to them and ask if it is the best and most reliable and fair information available. The board has to agree 100% before anything is officially presented. We do the work, and we show you guys the results. You’re college students, you don’t have time to sift through all this information. But most importantly, our job isn’t to tell you what to think, it’s just to make sure you can.
TTO Staff: How has your experience been working with these think tanks and policy groups?
Hayes: These people have thought really deeply about these issues but they don’t assume someone who has come to a different conclusion is a villain. They are committed to civil discourse. They often don’t approach our conversations as if they have all the answers but they approach them with an intellectual curiosity. It may be really depressing to work in this field, but the benefit of my position is that I get to see the best in people. Everyone has been very helpful on the policy side and the people we work with show a commitment to providing clear, fair, and honest information to the American people.
TTO Staff: You talked about curriculums for schools. Do you create your own and if so, what age level do you focus on?
Hayes: For college students, we give presentations and allow them to speak with an expert in the room. College students are eager and ready for the opportunity to have a back-and-forth with an expert. For high school students, we take a step back from policy and we’ve been experimenting with facilitating conversations and information about important political and economic issues. What we have found so far is that it will be curriculum based. We are looking to provide a support base with mini civic lessons that we can hand to high school teachers to supplement their lessons. We are also looking to help high school students into the public leadership pipeline. For example, we cosponsor Harvard Model Congress for high school students and we run career panels at the conferences.
TTO Staff: What kind of students are you looking for and how can they get involved with the organization?
Hayes: So there’s an important problem going on right now. We are in a leadership drought. The issues of disinformation and a lack of leadership tend to feed off of one another. Students who could be great leaders now look to go into the private sector largely because of disinformation, but this shift leaves us without responsible and fair leaders to solve these problems. Our role is to encourage young people to pursue careers in civil service by identifying these individuals and allowing them to be a part of something that will educate and empower the future generation. We are interested in recruiting strong leaders who we can streamline into careers that are going to help our best and brightest to solve the issues of today. We are trying to identify people with real talent who are frustrated by what they see today. While the evidence tells us we have an emerging generation of leaders that are frustrated, if they have early success they will stay engaged in public service. We want individuals who are committed to bipartisanship and who believe the fiscal framework around these issues matters. They should be self-reflective and responsible. But, our leadership programs are available to all who apply. They are a career accelerator and we encourage anyone who is interested to apply.
If you are interested in getting involved with Free the Facts and pursuing a career in public service, apply to the ambassador program! The program offers tangible support for students involved, from helping them with letters of recommendation for internships and applications to assisting them in finding housing for summer programs in D.C. If you are committed to public service and bipartisanship, apply apply apply!
Reach out to Jenna Maunsel, a Clemson student ambassador for Free the Facts or contact the organization to apply today.