The qualities that make him a good friend are also what make a good candidate.
Maxwell Frost remembers the exact moment he started on his path in politics. In 2012, at age 15, he attended a Washington, D.C. vigil for the 26 people, mostly children, killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The event was completely packed. “People came from around the world to that vigil,” he says. “There was a sense of mourning, of sorrow, but also of community and being together.” There, Frost spoke with the teen brother of one of the victims. He was only a year older than Frost. “Seeing a 16-year-old with the demeanor of a 60-year-old, crying over his sister, had a profound impact on me,” Frost says. “I made a commitment that I wanted to fight for a world where no one has to feel that way.”
True to his word, Frost started working full time for political candidates like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton when he was fresh out of high school, and joined issue-based groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and March for Our Lives. Now, in 2022, he’s taking it to the next level: This year, Frost, 25, is running to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District, where, if elected, he’d become one of the first Gen Z members of U.S. Congress.
Frost highlights his own story as indicative of why the United States needs candidates like him in office — and why support networks like his are so important. Like many first-time candidates, it was Frost’s community and friends who pushed him to run for office. Initially, he was skeptical. “First thing I said was, ‘Hell no.’” He was unsure about the impact on his job, or the scrutiny he’d endure. “And honestly, I wasn’t sure that I could win,” he admits. “But it planted a seed in my mind. I started having conversations with people in my community and I quickly found out that people were pretty excited about the thought of a young person such as myself — also an organizer and an activist — running for office.”
During this consideration process, Frost, who is adopted, got in touch for the first time with his biological mother. He discovered that she was a poor woman of color who had gotten caught up in systems of crime, drugs, and poverty. “Getting on the phone with my biological mother and hearing that she had me at the most vulnerable point in her life brought everything full circle for me,” he says. “I hung up the phone and was like, ‘I’m running for Congress.’”
Frost’s campaign platform focuses on issues of deep importance to many 20-somethings like him: ending gun violence, health care for all, environmental justice, reimagining the criminal legal system, legalizing marijuana, and decriminalizing sex work. These stances are underpinned by Frost’s own values. “I want people to believe that they are inherently entitled to health care, food, water, a roof over their head, and the best things that government can provide,” he says.
Drawing on his background in community organizing and social justice work, his campaign is powered in large part by his friends, his family, and his community. His campaign manager Kevin Lata has worked with Frost before; Frost’s dad, a jazz musician, plays at his fundraisers; his mom is cooking for an upcoming event; his sister provides artwork; his girlfriend helps out with text drives; and his aunt is the campaign treasurer.
Organizing money requires people power, just like organizing people and protests.
“His vision is just something I’ve never seen in anyone before,” says Niyah Lowell, 25, one of Frost’s closest friends since high school, who has been helping out with his fundraising events. “His foresight, the way he’s able to connect with people through words — it’s something I aspire to. He’s really able to draw you in and connect with anybody from any walk of life.”
This ability to connect is key to Frost’s campaign: In the 10 months since launching his race, Frost has substantially out-funded his opponents, bringing in a total of $577,415 from over 17,000 donations as of March 2022. In June, as per Florida’s election rules, he will be confirmed on the ballot for the 10th district’s Aug. 23 Democratic primary. He credits much of this to the dedication of his friends, who have helped him with phone-banking, knocking on doors, text drives, and fundraising events.
“Organizing money requires people power, just like organizing people and protests,” he points out. “Especially when we first started, before I had a lot of [community] volunteers, my friends were the ones coming over and dialing with me for fundraising and helping me plan different events.”
His community involvement is part of how he can stay so true to his own roots. During Orlando Pride Month in 2021, Frost arranged for his high school salsa band to play on a flatbed truck — the same band, in fact, with which Frost and his friends had performed for President Barack Obama at his 2013 inauguration. “We had a group chat to discuss which songs to perform, then we got together the day before to rehearse at Max’s place,” says Lowell, who flew in on a red-eye from Arizona for the event. The energy of working with her friends kept her going through the jet lag. “I hadn’t performed since before the pandemic and I didn’t realize how much I missed it!”
Lowell wasn’t the only one of his friends to show up in a big way: Frost’s friend Lauren came from California to sing; his friend Sam ran the sound system; his sister painted the truck; and the band performing was made up of his best friends from high school. “I feel incredibly lucky to have such a good support system in this time, specifically, but also just in my life,” Frost says.
The show of solidarity and love brought together those who have been supporting him, but also highlighted the issues of LGBTQ+ equality and justice. Nearly a year on, Frost points out how much more essential these themes are in light of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would block teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender in schools. On March 28, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law. It takes effect July 1.
“Races like mine are an opportunity for us to say, no, Florida does not believe in that — we believe in a progressive future, one that encompasses and includes every single person regardless of who they are,” he says. “I’m not just going to be an ally to the queer folks in our community, I’m going to be an accomplice for them, fighting for protections, rights, and whatever needs to be done so folks feel safe and can just live their lives.”
Frost keeps his campaign office open for long hours of the day, allowing friends and supporters to flow in and out to lend a hand whenever and however they can — training them to knock on doors, make phone calls, ask for petition signatures and fundraising. Daniel Chico, 25, another of Frost’s closest high school friends, fits in volunteering around his various jobs. “When I was working at night I would go over [to the office] at 11 a.m., have lunch, we’d make calls and send emails until about 3 p.m. when I would have to leave, and then somebody else would turn up to continue the cycle,” he says. His girlfriend also got involved. “We had different schedules, so she would show up and [then] I would leave. There’s always a cycle of people in and out.”
The qualities that make Frost a good friend ... are also what make him a candidate worth fighting for.
Frost is grateful to be surrounded by so many people willing to chip in, softening the otherwise intense and stressful run for federal office. Many people working on the campaign, including Frost, have multiple jobs, or are working while in school. Frost himself drives for Uber. His experiences mean he’s in tune with what the people around him need, and the effort it takes to see their needs fulfilled. “Folks see someone who is aiming to represent them going through a similar thing [to them], and they want to see more people who have been through that elected into office,” Frost says of how his constituents view him.
Amid the work, the campaign crew does what they can to keep it fun. “Sometimes they’ll have some wine or beer, or just snacks ready for everyone,” Frost says. “The shifts we do are usually four to five hours, so people are putting in some real time.”
Both Lowell and Chico point out that the qualities that make Frost a good friend — his loyalty and generosity, to hear them tell it — are also what make him a candidate worth fighting for. “He does whatever he can to help others. We’ve always got each other’s backs,” Chico says.
“He’s always uplifting the people around him, putting them in great places,” Lowell says. “He’s really good at connecting with people and generating high energy and raising morale if needed.” She compares him to a DJ, “but with words instead of music.”
Frost is not naïve about the role of government in making change. As a seasoned activist, he is well aware that power does not often make way for the voices of the most powerless. But he rejects the idea that he is idealistic. “I’m not telling people that, if you vote for me, these things [I stand for] will happen right away. What I’m saying is, if you vote for me, these are the things I’m going to fight for; this is the vision that I believe in.”
Frost is humbled by the support of his friends and family. “Music, art, love, creativity, culture — these things make life worth it,” he says. It’s what drives his campaign, and his vote. “Understanding that we all are worthy and inherently deserve love, care, health, and the ability to do what we want to do — that’s what this campaign is about.”