Maxwell Frost’s vision meets Washington
Frost’s origin story required him to answer a question he had ignored for years. “I was adopted in a pretty difficult situation at birth,” he told me. “I never wanted to know more.” People around Frost have suggested that he find out who his birth mother is, not just for his own good, but to make sure none of his critics do it first. When he told his adoptive parents about it, Maritza told him that his birth mother was a friend of a friend. They had struggled to have children, and his biological mother had not been able to raise one. Curious to know more, Frost checked out her Facebook profile and marveled at the photographs of her birth mother. “I had never seen anyone who looked like me,” recalls Frost, whose adoptive parents are fair-skinned. As he scrolled through his Facebook page, he froze. Frost and her biological mother had one friend in common: her ten-year-old barber, Chris Dean.
Frost texted Dean over one of the photos, “Hey, do you know this person?” A few minutes later, Dean called him to ask him how he knew her. “Man, that’s my birth mom,” Frost said. There was a moment of silence. “I was living with your mom,” Dean replied. In the 90s, she and Dean had shared an apartment with another man. “Where we lived was a small apartment, we probably had a couch, we were trying to find food day to day,” Dean later told me. The people around them coped with stress through the use of alcohol and drugs, he recalls. Dean had lost contact with Frost’s biological mother, but they were still friends on social media. Frost asked him to do the introduction. “Max is ready to reach out to you,” Dean wrote.
During their first phone conversation, which lasted about an hour, Frost’s birth mother told him that he was one of eight siblings. She and her biological father, who is Haitian, had been separated for years. “He could be gone,” Frost recalled telling her. She had been “at the most vulnerable point of her life” when she had him, as Frost would later put it in his first campaign announcement. “The system had demonized and forgotten her.” He promised voters to do the exact opposite: put their safety and well-being first, in Orlando, an area facing a wave of violence, as well as an increase in evictions, foreclosures and without -shelter, especially among young people. Frost has enthusiastically taken a progressive stance on issues ranging from Medicare for All to Green New Deal. He pledged to work to end gun violence and faithfully represent other members of Generation Z, or, he says, the nation’s “mass shooting generation.”
With a handful of volunteers, Frost launched his campaign from an Airbnb, where he was temporarily living after being deprived of the price of his old rental apartment. When the Airbnb also became unaffordable, they moved to a common area in the building where its campaign manager lived. “At least we had a pool table,” recalls his manager, Kevin Lata. To get by, Frost worked as an Uber driver at night, in a yellow Kia Soul, a gig that helped pay the bills. The main challenge Frost faced at the time, recalled Meghan McAnespie, a member of data firm Grassroots Analytics, was: did he have the money to win? As McAnespie, who advised Frost, put it, his campaign got caught in a chicken-and-egg problem, where “money begets money and endorsements beget even more money.”
Over time, donations began to pour in, as did endorsements, both from local officials and from notable national figures, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. When the primaries rolled around, Frost emerged from a field of ten Democratic candidates, including a state senator and two former congressmen. By Election Day, he had raised more than two million dollars, mostly from voters who had contributed an average of thirty-one dollars to his campaign. Sam Bankman Friedthe disgraced crypto-financier, make a donation twenty-nine hundred dollars straight to Frost’s campaign, and a super CAP he claimed to have spent nearly a million dollars on Frost’s behalf. After Bankman-Fried was charged, Frost donated the twenty-nine hundred dollars to charity. “I never asked for their support,” Frost said at the time. “I don’t want or need the support of these hustlers, and I will fight to get black money out of politics.”
In Frost, young Floridians saw a candidate they could relate to, said friend Niyah Lowell. “With no disrespect to any of the other members,” Lowell added, “but they’re a bit distant, generationally and fiscally speaking. Now we have someone who’s like us, who knows exactly what we’re going through, at the power.
Last Tuesday evening, after the third ballot for president, Frost returned to his desk, which was largely empty. A pile of business cards, from unions, advocacy groups and lobbyists, who had stopped by to meet him that day, sat at the front desk. There was a suitcase full of things to unpack, and a handful of books, mostly about Orlando, adorning otherwise bare shelves near the entrance. A single piece of art hung next to Frost’s new desk. It was a large canvas, which took up an entire wall, with two side-by-side portraits: one of Frost, and the other of Joaquin Oliver, a seventeen-year-old student who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. , in Parkland, almost five years ago.
The piece was a gift from Oliver’s father, Manuel, who had painted it during Frost’s campaign. At its center were the words “TIME TO SAVE LIVES!” SO GET ABOARD OR GET OUT OF OUR WAY!” Frost considered him his north star in Washington – an emblem of what his presence there represented. For Manuel, who has been at the forefront of the movement against gun violence since his son’s death, it had personal meaning. “It’s an image meant to last,” Manuel told me. “A daily and vivid reminder from Joaquin to Maxwell, his people and all members who have set foot in this office.”
How Frost can live up to that, or any of his generation’s expectations, is the main question surrounding his tenure. His early days in Congress laid bare the institution’s many flaws. In fifteen ballots – the longest since the mid-1800s – the House has been unable to complete the basic task of choosing a Speaker. Round after round, while the Republicans entered the negotiations and sabotaged them, the Democrats watched from the sidelines. Late Friday night, as the scene turned to bickering, and even a sudden split, Frost found himself asking other lawmakers if this was the “craziest thing” they’d witnessed in Congress. . The answer was no, the January 6 uprising was.
After two in the morning, Frost walked out of the House chamber, finally taking his oath, thinking his first week in Congress would be a “microcosm of the next two years.” But his work as an organizer had taught him that progress is a function of time. “I thought a lot about: What are the things we can do in a bipartisan way? How to cut on the edges? How do you enforce legislation that may not pass this year but really sets the tone for the future? he told me later. There were similarities between his current and past work. At its core, it was about influencing people’s opinions and gaining their support, whether for a cause or a bill. But none of this, Frost predicted, would happen overnight. “If you start and finish in 2023 and 2024, you’re probably going to be very discouraged,” he said. “I think of things more than the two- or four-year term. When you think about it that way, it gives you a lot more hope, because you get a really holistic picture of the movement – the progressive legislation movement. ♦