The Nation's Youngest Congressional Candidate Knows Voting Can't Fix Everything
Maxwell Frost is running for Congress in Florida. He knows winning would just be the first step.
At the very end of our interview, I ask Maxwell Frost to tell me what he wants for Florida in a single sentence. It's not really a fair question—Frost is just a year younger than me, 25 years old, and he's spent the last 40 minutes passionately explaining why he is running to be the first Gen Z congressman. He pauses and I can see even through the Zoom call that he wants to say more than any single sentence could hold.
"I want everyone to have the resources they need to live their best lives," Frost says. It's a succinct and hopeful statement and it does accurately summarize the young Floridian's campaign. Perhaps you've seen the news lately, but the elected officials in the state seem to have the exact opposite goal.
As a Democratic candidate, it's not just his age that makes Frost stand out in Florida's political landscape. He's a supporter of a Green New Deal, and his platform is based around progressive goals. Frost's platform focuses on Medicare for All, ending gun violence, pandemic preparedness, the climate crisis, reimagining what the justice system could look like, and improving access to housing and public transit.
What these priorities all have in common, Frost says, is "seeing the world through the eyes of the most vulnerable." It is a touchstone that has driven his campaign and it's also, Frost says, where Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has failed.
"What he's doing is scapegoating vulnerable communities through his hateful rhetoric and legislation to distract from the fact that he's not doing a good job as governor and to distract from the fact that he's more interested in running for president in 2024 than running the state," Frost continued. There's a thread of anger in his discussion of what is happening that resonates with social media posts made by so many people—Gen Z and older—who are watching Florida turn into a battleground over basic rights.
DeSantis was barely a blip on the political radar, though, when Frost first decided to get involved in politics. At just 15, he made a commitment to activism that he's kept. Long before he launched his congressional campaign, he was the National Organizing Director for March for Our Lives, and he has spent eight years as a volunteer for the Newtown Action Alliance. He was catalyzed into action when was sitting at a restaurant with friends before a jazz band concert, gorging on fast food, when the entire establishment felt eerily still. All eyes turned towards the TV hanging in the corner.
"We saw that somebody had walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and murdered 20 children and six teachers," Frost said. All these years later and it was clear that the same anguish he'd felt then never really went away. "That had a huge impact on my life. I couldn't play right at the show. I kept thinking about it."
His parents allowed him to attend the memorial for Newtown victims in Washington, DC. That day changed his life and, in his words, it is what brought him to this point taking on Congress at such a young age. "The thing that really got to me is the fact that it could have been prevented," Frost continued. "Then 10 years later in the middle of my campaign, almost the exact same thing happened in Uvalde, Texas. And so …that's why I got involved in politics."
On being such a young candidate, Frost acknowledges its pros and cons—and though most of his news coverage to date has centered on his Gen Z status, this fact seems only peripheral to him. His young age has proven to be a big hurdle to overcome in terms of fundraising. Campaigns need money to run, and with seven other Dem candidates in the primary race, Frost's campaign ran out of money fast.
"We ran out of money throughout the campaign," Frost said. “Because I'm not someone who's wealthy, I had to find other ways to make money, to pay my bills. I did Uber, and it created a very unsustainable model. I was always working whether it was on the campaign or driving Uber to make money for my bills and pay my food."
While fundraising and working certainly drained him, Frost won his primary with 34% of the vote, nearly double the total that the second place candidate received. Frost acknowledges how all of it—his age, his need to keep working to pay his bills—makes him fit to be the congressman for Florida's 10th district.
"Young people don't have a lot of those political connections for money. I know I didn't, and that's why our campaign's been built around small dollar donations," Frost said. "There's going to be people who discount me because of my age. And hopefully this race has shown people to not give up on young folks."
His hope and determination to make Florida a better place for the working class, for vulnerable people, for everyone did start to rub off on me. But before I became too swept up in what this young and progressive candidate could do for the state, I asked the question that seems to take up space in so many people's minds. What about the people who feel like voting doesn't matter anymore, who have been disenfranchised and disillusioned by a system that seems too old and cruel to change from within?
"I feel that too, right? I think part of the reason why there's so much voter apathy and why so many people think it doesn't matter is because for generations, politicians have completely lied to us in these campaigns. They've told us if you vote for me, this will happen. Vote for me, this will happen," Frost said. "I've realized that that's just not how this works. We live in a system that's meant to work slowly, on purpose."
It's refreshing to hear someone running for office admit that political progress doesn't begin and end with voting. The electoral institution already excludes too many people. People who were elected in don't live up to the promises of change that have been made. No matter which party is in power, it feels like some things continue to just get worse.
"I would never promise specific results. It's always been about the greater movement. It's always been about the fact that I cannot promise you what's going to happen as a single member of Congress, but what I can promise you is what I believe in and how hard I'm gonna fight for that and how I'm gonna fight for it," Frost continued. "I'm not a savior, I'm a piece of a bigger puzzle. We need every piece of that puzzle to make the change we want to make."
Maybe Maxwell Frost is willing to admit that his pending win (which is likely in the historically Democratic district) won't fix everything because he's Gen Z. Like so many people born in the 1990s, he's witnessed and experienced too much to think that any one person could be what brings about all encompassing change. It could also be that as someone born in the age of the internet, he knows what the rest of us want to hear.
Either way, as the youngest person running for Congress this year, Maxwell Frost's campaign signals that young people, Floridians, and people who want things to get better can't be counted out.
Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.