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Voices of Change

Meet Maxwell Frost. He May Be the First Member of Gen Z in Congress.

From gun violence to health care, the 25-year-old activist wants to bring the defining issues of his generation to Washington.

Maxwell Frost is seeking the Democratic nomination to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District. The 25-year-old political activist became a gun control advocate after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. (Courtesy of Maxwell Frost)

Ahead of the 2022 midterms, Capital B is talking to newsmakers across the country who want to reshape American politics or galvanize Black voices in government. Our “Voices of Change” series will update periodically with insights from the candidates, activists, lawmakers, and political insiders whom you should know.

Progressive activist Maxwell Alejandro Frost wants to be the first member of Generation Z to win a seat in Congress. The 25-year-old is vying for the Democratic nomination to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District, a solidly blue seat that covers parts of Orlando. 

The son of Cuban refugees, Frost was adopted as an infant as his biological mother struggled to support her family. Since then, his life has been influenced by many of the watershed events that define his generation.

Coming of age under America’s first Black president, Frost became a gun control advocate after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, serving as a volunteer lobbyist for the Newtown Action Alliance. He later became the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, the group born out of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. He even had his own encounter with gun violence as a bystander in downtown Orlando. 

Frost’s campaign comes during a summer besieged by tragedy and political tension. The mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York have been grim reminders of the gun violence epidemic that first propelled him to activism. The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of federal abortion rights and the cracks in the country’s health care system exposed by the coronavirus pandemic have further fueled his run for Congress.

“If we want bold change on guns, reproductive health, and affordable housing,” Frost said in his latest campaign ad, “we can’t keep electing the same politicians.” 

Frost blames policy failures for the revolving door of devastating news. He sees the broad spectrum of health issues — from access to quality care to environmental justice to mental health services — as central to his campaign. 

He’s in the race to fill the seat currently held by Rep. Val Demings, who is running for U.S. Senate. If elected, he would replace outgoing 27-year-old Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) as the youngest member of Congress.

Frost’s race is crowded. He faces nine other Democrats. But his campaign has raised more than $1.2 million — more than all of his August primary opponents combined. His Democratic opponents include Florida state Sen. Randolph Bracy, the Rev. Terence Gray, and attorney Natalie Jackson. And his campaign has snagged endorsements from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani. The primary election will take place Aug. 23. 

Frost spoke to Capital B about why his campaign is so deeply rooted in health advocacy and how his past work in activism and organizing influences his politics. The interview is edited for clarity and length.

Capital B: You’re the minimum age to serve in the U.S. House, what about being part of Generation Z sparked your candidacy?

Maxwell Frost: Me being a member of Gen Z didn’t really play a large role in me deciding to win, but it’s obviously a big part of the story and something that I think about quite often, especially, potentially being the first of my generation in the institution. We’re moving into a place where the voices of young people are respected and are accepted. Democrats need to do a much better job of accepting young voices. Republicans have more young people proportionately in leadership positions. Only 7% of House Democrats are under the age of 40. I’m not even just talking about a 20-year-old. I’m talking about under 40. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. 

Your campaign is pretty health-focused. A lot of what you’re campaigning on is health-related. Why is health important to you at this moment?

We take a very holistic approach to policy. That means not viewing issues in silos or accepting the division of issues. When you think about health care, gun violence, climate change, crime, right, everything is in its own place. Our opposition wants us to believe in that because, if we divide the issues, it means we’re also divided in organizing and power building. All of these issues are interconnected. In the campaign, we don’t go up to people and say, “I’m for Medicare For All.” A lot of times, I’ll ask, “Do you believe in the human right to be healthy?” Most people say yes. By virtue of being human, we deserve to be healthy. That means preventative care. That means reactive care. That means mental care. “Do you believe that we still deserve that regardless of employment status?” Most people say yes. “Do you believe that we deserve that regardless of how much money we have in our bank?” Most people say yes. When we pass something like Medicare For All, we’ll see more money in people’s pockets, as well as our population healthier and cared for. You’ll see things like gun violence go down. You’ll see things like crime go down. You’ll see the ability to really hone in on existential issues, like climate change, go up.

Gun violence is an issue that’s been close to you. How is your own personal perspective intertwined with gun violence, and how does that relate to this conversation of community health?

Gun violence is what got me involved in this work. Ten years ago, the Sandy Hook shooting happened, and it is what thrusted me into action. That changed my life. Three years later, I would be caught in the middle of gun violence as well, and it would hit home for me again when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened here in Orlando. We lose 100 people a day in this country due to gun violence. When you really take a step back, and you don’t let yourself be desensitized to the news, then you understand that behind every number there’s a person — and that person has family, hopes, and dreams — it really hits home.

And in some ways, the moment of your candidacy has come full circle with the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings earlier this summer. How does that feel for you?

It’s a morbid irony, right? The thing that got me involved with this work was a school shooting at an elementary school with a kid with an AR-15. I’m running for Congress 10 years later and, in the middle of my campaign, a kid goes into elementary school with AR-15 and murders a bunch of kids. This was predictable because it already happened. It was preventable because we have commonsense gun reform that could be passed. It is a policy failure. Each Black and brown boy or girl that’s killed because of drive-by shootings in their neighborhood where they live, every person who takes a gun and kills themselves, these are all policy failures. Mass shootings tear families apart, and it’s horrible. It’s also 1% of gun violence. I say that not to lay down mass shootings but to play up the whole issue.

Your roots are in activism and organizing. How do you feel like that bleeds into your journey as a candidate, and also, Washington, if you’re elected?

I’ll be going into office as someone who’s always been on the other side of the wall, always working to hold people accountable. I’m not naive — I know that a lot of times, folks on the outside will say, “I wish they did that.” I’m excited to have one of the most accessible congressional offices in the country. We’re going to knock on doors year round, not to get me elected, but to connect people with resources in the community. 

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is really important, or that you want to make sure we talk about?

A big part of this campaign is to redefine what it means to be a politician.  I’ll always ask people, “What are the first words you think of when you hear the word politician?” Corrupt. Jail. Out of touch. We laugh about it, and then we’ll sit in silence. It’s funny, but it’s sad. We’re talking about people who make decisions that impact our life. When you think about your representative, you should smile. You should think of someone who you not only respect, but someone that you love, and someone that loves you. We’re always talking about love. If you love somebody, you want them to have health care. If you love somebody, you want them to live in a community free of gun violence. If you love somebody, you want them to have affordable housing, and when that love transforms into kind of a righteous anger, you take that anger everywhere you go. To Congress. To protests. It gives you motivation. That’s a new type of politics, different from what we see now. When I say new generation, I don’t just mean young people. There’s a lot of older folks who are not in power right now who carry that same torch. 

Honestly, I feel like that answer is right along the lines of how organizing influences your work. Love is something that an organizer turned politician would emulate.

100%. These things are really complicated. No matter if you’re Republican or Democrat, progressive or not, you connect with love, and you understand what that means. We need some more love in our politics right now. I want to leave with my constituents knowing that they deserve the best. They deserve it all because they’re human. That’s it.