Why Rep. Maxwell Frost Is Hopeful About Gen Z's Future in Politics

An illustration of Congressman Maxwell Frost on a blue background, with the text "Florida Congressman Maxwell Frost on Gen Z's Future in American Politics"

Florida Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost made headlines in 2022 when he was elected at age 25 — the first Gen Z member of Congress. But that milestone was not the beginning of his political career.

The Orlando organizer was first moved to action on the issue of gun violence, specifically following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, and later, a shooting that rocked his home state in Parkland, Florida in 2018.

He joined his peers in the March for Our Lives movement to call on elected officials to take action against gun violence and became the organization’s National Organizing Director.

He also served as a volunteer lobbyist for the Newtown Action Alliance and was a national organizer with the ACLU, tapping into his own experiences as a gun violence and police violence survivor, and advocating for other issues like access to health care and climate action. 

Now, he’s in his second year in Congress, doing the same work — albeit, in a much different environment.

Congressman Maxwell Frost wears a black blazer and crosses his arms across his chestA
Photo courtesy of Maxwell Alejandro Frost for Congress

Good Good Good sat down with Rep. Frost for a conversation about youth civic engagement, successful organizing tactics, and where he finds hope amid the hard work of building a better future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In conversation with Congressman Maxwell Frost

Kamrin Baker, Good Good Good: To get started, I would love to hear a bit about your story and what compelled you to run for office.

Rep. Frost: Well, I got involved in politics at a young age. When I was 15 years old, the reason I got involved in the first place was really because of gun violence. Ending gun violence has been the charge of my life, of my teen years, and moving on as an organizer.

It was the Sandy Hook shooting that really pushed me to action. I came home after the vigil that happened in D.C. for that shooting and just started learning how to organize around gun violence. I remember my first petition I did at my school, I didn’t know much about policy and stuff, so I just made a petition that said “Sign to End Gun Violence.” It wasn’t like an ask or anything. I gave it to my principal who was like [grimaces]. 

But it was the first time I had ever identified a problem and looked around and said, “We have what we need here to organize with my peers and build power together.” 

And then I started working on campaigns right out of high school for candidates and justice-oriented campaigns. It was just mentioned to me by some friends, like “Hey, you should look at running for Congress,” very casually. I said “hell no” and moved on. I was like, “I’m not running for Congress. Is he crazy?” But sometimes people say something and it plants a seed in your mind. 

They planted that seed and I kept thinking about it for a while. And then I decided to run, and I guess I made the right decision because I’m here and talking to Good Good Good.

KB: I know a lot of young people who care about politics are often illustrated as apathetic or angry, but I’d love to know some ways you’ve seen young people mobilize successfully.

Rep. Frost: There’s a place for every emotion in every movement. Who am I to be like, “You cannot organize with anger or love or sadness,” you know? Ultimately, I think the feeling that gives us the most longevity as a movement and as people is organizing from a place of love. 

It’s things like loving the oppressed more than you hate the oppressor, sitting with your emotions of anger and finding ways to morph it into radical love. I just think you last longer in this work. 

And there’s a lot of examples. You can just look at any massive social movement that is based from a place of trauma. Just thinking about what followed the death of George Floyd. I mean, everyone just saw a Black man get lynched on freaking Twitter and hit the streets with righteous anger. And as the months went on, fewer and fewer people were on the streets.

And now, you have this group of people who are activated because of that. Now, you ask them, and they say “we’re still angry,” but it’s morphed into more of a thing where it’s more like “let’s help our people. We count on us.” And you have more longevity when you approach things like that. 

An illustration of Maxwell Frost pointing his finger in the air
Illustration by Johnathan Huang/Good Good Good

So I would never tell someone to not organize using anger. Anger, a lot of times, is that emotion that will push us out to be involved in an issue in the first place. But finding opportunities to center the people we’re looking to help and build power with, versus just the target, or the oppressor, in that instance, I think just gives us the tools that we need to do this for a long time. 

The fact of the matter is there is no successful social movement that was successful overnight. It’s the culmination of generations of work. And when it happens, the world will feel like it happened overnight. And those of us who’ve been doing the work for a while, we’ll just look at each other and crack a smile because we know it was anything but overnight. 

I want to make sure people don’t misunderstand me, too. I’m not saying that we don’t need [change] now. But it’s also good to understand everyone’s different roles in this movement. Our impatience and our demand to fix things now helps us move things in a faster way. So we should never let go of that. 

I always look at these caveats because people feel like you’re either an accelerationist and you want everything now or, or you are an incrementalist and you don’t believe in transformational change. But if you really study the way that movements have been successful, both things work at the same time to get us what we need faster.

KB: Has your perspective changed at all, as someone who started as an organizer and is now in this role in a long-standing, policy-focused institution like Congress?

Rep. Frost: Like I said, everyone plays a role, and we need good people who share our values everywhere. It’s in business, it’s in the arts, it’s in culture, it’s in protesting, direct action, it’s in mutual aid, it’s in the system in politics, it’s staff, it’s media. We need people who share our values, who want to see the world through the eyes of the most vulnerable in every facet of society. 

I’ve operated outside of the system and in collaboration with the system throughout my career as an organizer, whether it’s through Black Lives Matter here in Orlando or through the arts, which is something that’s really important to me. 

Now, I’ve stepped into this new role where I don’t see myself as above or more important than anyone else’s role, but just a different place that comes with different considerations and different ways of operating, but yet still looking at the same values and same general goals. 

Generally, we want to progress and be in a place where people’s basic necessities are met in this country so we can end gun violence, defeat the climate crisis, etc. In that way, I still see myself as an organizer.

During my race, so many of my opponents would say, “well, he’s just an organizer. He’s not ready for Congress.” Now I’m here, a year into the job, and I think we’ve had a very successful year, especially for a freshman office in the minority.

But sometimes when I go vote, I’ll take a seat and I’ll sit back and watch people. And the House floor is like a little organizing fishbowl. It’s all organizing. We’re advocates. We’re not executives. We’re not the CEO of the city. We are organizers for our towns and cities.

"We need people who have that spirit of what it means to be an organizer and build collective power with the people around you; the people around you at home and the people around you in DC."
Illustration by Johnathan Huang/Good Good Good

We organize to get money, we organize to pass legislation, and we use our voice to message and make sure that we’re advocating on behalf of our constituents. It sounds, to me, like I’m being an organizer — just an elected organizer. 

So, in fact, being here has made me believe that we need more organizers here [in Congress]. And let’s be clear, I don’t mean organizers for whom organizing has been their entire career. You can be an organizer and a teacher. You can be an organizer and a nurse. You can be an organizer and a musician. 

It’s not about needing more people who professionally organize here, even though that would be nice. We need people who have that spirit of what it means to be an organizer and build collective power with the people around you; the people around you at home and the people around you in D.C.

KB: What changes need to be made to make running for office more accessible or even more appealing to the next generation?

Rep. Frost: We need [young] people to run for office. It’s not the only element, but it’s an essential element in building power politically. But there are real institutional changes we need to make. 

[Running for office] isn’t built for young people. It’s not built for poor, working people. It is incredibly difficult. You can go into financial ruin running for office. In fact, that’s the thing that I was doing, and thank God I won. 

My North Star is I believe we need publicly funded elections where no one fundraises at all. I mean, we always talk about big money in politics. I don’t think money and raising money should be an element in politics at all. Or, I like some weird ideas I’ve heard, too, things like democracy dollars, where every citizen gets a certain amount of money they can donate to a candidate.

These are cool ideas that help level the playing field for candidates and for citizens to have a voice in this, because right now, to have a voice in politics, you either need to have a lot of people power behind you or a lot of money behind you. It leaves out a lot of the folks who do not have the capacity or time to organize because they’re working on surviving. 

So we need publicly funded elections, but we also need to do everything we can to make it easier to run for office. If I had a family that I had to take care of, I would have dropped out of my race four months in.

There came a point where I was houseless for two months. One of those months, I lived in an Airbnb and I emptied my savings account to do that. And the other month, I was actually just couch surfing and sleeping in my car.

And at the time, I was a 24-year-old guy with no kids. I could do that — not that I should have to — but if I had kids and stuff, that’s the point where I would have decided, probably, to quit.

Right now, this is set up for people who are already wealthy. Running for Congress is a full-time job. So you can either keep your other job and not dedicate all your time toward [your campaign] and risk losing because it really requires all your time, or you quit your job and you live off credit cards and do what you can, which is what I did. 

But I don’t think people should have to do that for saying “I want to represent my people.”

KB: What is your advice for bridging generational divides? Or how do young people get older people to take them seriously?

Rep. Frost: Organizing in multi-generational coalitions is really the key to this. I think people assume that I’ll be the type to say, “We need no old people in office; just young people.” Well, no, right? Our government is supposed to represent our country. I believe the way we treat our seniors and elders is really indicative of the values of our country. 

For me, it’s less about having less “old versus young,” even though we need a lot more young people in office. It’s more about the fact that we really want our government to look like our country and have the freshest ideas or approaches. 

Congressman Maxwell Frost shakes the hand of a constituent in a conference room
Photo courtesy of Maxwell Frost/Instagram

Gen Z, the cool thing about our generation, is we have a very entrepreneurial spirit, but it’s also the bad thing about our generation, too, because we tend to maybe say, “I want to do something,” and rather than looking at what’s already being done, we might just start our our own thing. 

You see a million Gen Z political nonprofits all doing the same thing, so the question is like, “okay, well, the people who have been doing this work, how are you working with them and building with them?” And I think working with older folks is a big part of that. 

I’ll give you an example. The second bill I introduced was the Save Through Medicare Act, which is a climate crisis bill. It’s a bill to protect our seniors, a health care expansion act. And when I did that press conference, I invited the Sunrise Movement, and we announced it at a senior center. 

It was a multi-generational coalition around this piece of legislation everyone believed in. Things like that help us, I think, get to a place where we get taken more seriously, but also because we give people a reason to take us seriously.

KB: I see you as someone who ran for office because you felt that you needed to, in order to change your circumstances. I know some politicians may have gotten into this work for other reasons, or just because they wanted to be in a position of power. 

Do you think that reflects your experience? And do you think that kind of urgency for social change will drive more young people to run for elected office?

Rep. Frost: A lot of young people come up to me and say, “I want to run for Congress.”

I used to work in music, so I’m used to going up to managers and artists being like, “Do you have any advice?” And they go, “Keep grinding.” I never wanted to be a “keep grinding” person. 

I think because we’re such an ambitious generation, we have a lot of people who might want to run for office just to hold office. And so, whenever someone comes up to me — especially someone around my age — and they say they want to run for Congress, I’ve actually decided to give them a little pause. I’m not trying to be an asshole or anything, but what I want to do is make sure people can answer that question: Why?

For me, when I first thought about running for Congress, I couldn’t succinctly answer that question, and that’s why I put it off and said no. I took time to speak with people and speak with myself, essentially, and get to a place where, yes, I could answer that question, and I was running for real reasons. 

We don’t want a ton of Gen Zers running for office who have more ambition than they have passion. So, what are you passionate about? Why are you running? Are you running to just be a member of Congress? 

I didn’t run to be the first Gen Zer in Congress. Maybe I’d bring it up on some fundraising calls because it was a good hook to raise money, but when I was out in the community, I wasn’t knocking doors saying, “Hey, vote for me because I’ll be the first Gen Z.” So that can’t be the reason you run either, I don’t think. 

What issues or experiences do you care about? Why you — in this place, at this time? 

Maxwell Frost stands with his fist raised beside young supporters
Photo courtesy of Maxwell Alejandro Frost/Facebook

I want to see more young people in office, but I just want to make sure it’s people who are really passionate about issues and come from a place of humility. 

And I’m not saying, “oh, only people who have been through the ringer can run.” No, we need a diversity of people, but people who understand that it’s a team sport, it really is. When you’re in a legislature, it’s a team sport. You don’t make any decisions on your own that become law.

We have such a celebrity culture in politics, too, which can be really toxic because it appeals to this group of people who want to run for office just to hold office. This is really difficult work, and that’s why we need people here who are willing to be here for a while and have their heart and their head in the right place. 

KB: All of that being said, what gives you hope?

Rep. Frost: Really, honestly, what gives me a lot of hope is the young people in our country. Gen Z is the most progressive generation in the history of our country. It’s an impatient generation that has grown up viewing the traumas of the world through social media and has people scratching their head saying, “What the hell is going on and how come this stuff hasn’t been addressed?” 

Gen Z is the most politically active generation in the history of our country, too. So I just know that we can build a lot of power.

Look, I don’t claim to be the Gen Z spokesman, but the numbers don’t lie. It shows that we’re a generation that wants, for the most part, generally, health care for everybody, to end gun violence, and defeat the climate crisis.

Gen Z and millennials were a third of the electorate last election. Half of Gen Z can’t even vote yet, and we’re already the most politically active generation in the history of our country. 

The question is, in 10 years, in 20 years, as we become older, does that change policy in the United States? I come from a place of believing we’ll change things for the better. I think we will keep strong on our beliefs. I’m very optimistic for the future of this country. I know it’s weird to say with everything going on, but that’s where I’m at.

A version of this article was originally published in The Civic Engagement Edition of the Goodnewspaper.

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