First Gen Z congressman Maxwell Frost says he’s part of the ‘mass shooting generation’

Maxwell Frost places curbing gun violence at the top of his political agenda, along with addressing the housing crisis

Maxwell Frost might not yet have a permanent address in Washington DC, but that hasn’t stopped the hate mail from reaching him. “I got a letter the other day,” he says. “And when I opened it, it just said: ‘Fuck you.’”

Frost expected there would be a fair amount of negative reaction after he became the first member of Gen Z to be voted into Congress in last month’s midterm elections.

But a heavy campaign focus on gun safety measures has made the 25-year-old Democrat from Orlando, Florida, a marked man. The issue couldn’t be more important to Frost, who calls Gen Z “the mass shooting generation”.

“It feels like I’ve been through more mass shooting drills than fire drills,” he says.

Frost not only came of age with many of the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas 2018 high school shooting, but barnstormed the country with them to advocate for tougher gun controls.

Shortly after Frost beat Republican rival Calvin Wimbish by a considerable margin in Florida’s 10th congressional district in November (which includes Frost’s Orlando home town and many of its surrounding theme parks), the gun-saturated country was rocked by seven more mass shootings in as many days.

It’s why passing more substantive measures to curb gun violence is at the top of his list of priorities for his first six months in office.

“I think we have an opportunity, even in a Republican Congress, to pass legislation that can help get money for community violence intervention programs that help end gun violence before it even happens,” he said.

He further insists that any prospective legislation needs to have a mental health component.

“Folks with serious mental health issues are often scapegoated as the reason why there’s gun violence,” Frost says. “But as someone who’s been doing the work, when you look into the numbers, having a serious mental health issue doesn’t make you more likely to shoot someone. It actually makes you more likely to be shot.”

Frost intends to keep the pressure on both Republicans “who sweep the deaths of children under the rug” and on members of his own party who have been otherwise disinclined to take bold action. “I’d venture to say that gun control is the slowest-moving issue in the federal government that has the most media coverage when something happens,” he says. “I have to be the consistent voice.”

You’d be hard-pressed to take in Frost’s sudden emergence on the national scene without harking back to the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AKA AOC) who, at age 29 in 2019, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Like Frost, she boasts Latino heritage, has a working-class background, counts Bernie Sanders as a close mentor and espouses politics that lean left of most fellow Democrats. All of that has made AOC an easy enemy of the right as she joined up with Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and other young liberals since to alloy the informal progressive caucus known as the Squad.

Frost would be a natural fit on that team. But he’s not in much hurry to join forces with them or any other groups right now. “You’re gonna have different allies in different battles and I think it’s really important,” says Frost, who still has plenty of love and admiration for the Squad. “I mean, Cori Bush slept on the Capitol steps and as a result of that, people weren’t evicted from their homes. That is a case study in how working-class people and organizers in Congress are good for our country.”

Housing will be another focus of Frost’s first 100 days – one that his own situation, a limbo complicated by bad credit and a $174,000 (£143,687) federal salary that he won’t begin drawing until February, has thrust into the spotlight.

“We have the worst affordable housing crisis in the country, per capita in central Florida as of a few months ago,” he says.

“We need to do work to increase the power of renters in the marketplace and ensure that renting is actually accessible for people. It’s really hard right now and I know this personally not just from being houseless in DC, but also from being houseless for a month in central Florida and not having enough capital to move into a place.”

He also thinks he can make a credible pitch for more funding for the arts, the cherished avocation that initially got him and his high school band to Washington DC to play in Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration parade.

“The arts are a huge part of my life,” he says. “I went to [an] arts middle school and high school. I work on music festivals and have my own here in Orlando, and I really believe in the power of the arts – and it’s not equitable for everybody right now.”

All the while he intends to use his time in Congress to inspire young people to get involved in the political process, starting with making the federal government more approachable. “I want to do a kids’ day on the Hill,” he says. “I want to do concerts on the Hill – with young artists, so we can get young people super excited. I’ve been doing these blogs about what’s going on on the Hill. So just little things like that. I’m just really focused on stretching what it means to be a member of Congress.”


Andrew Lawrence in Atlanta

The GuardianTramp

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