The "mass shooting generation" is done waiting
They understand the urgency of now
Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progress Report.
It’s been clear since early May that the Supreme Court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but there’s no way to truly prepare for the onslaught of fascism that the ruling is likely to unleash. The stakes remain the same, but with every week that passes, the sense of peril only grows more acute.
There are just a few weeks left in the court’s spring session, so the decision could come at any time now. The day that Roe does finally fall will be a day of heartbreak, pain, and fear. But that fear won’t be paralyzing so much as galvanizing. Millions of people across the country will find themselves feeling angry and defiant, ready to build out new mutual aid networks and fight to wrest back power from these terrible autocrats.
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In tonight’s newsletter, we’re talking to a trailblazing Congressional candidate out of Florida who is determined to not just make history, but shape it, as well.
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Destiny hit Maxwell Alejandro Frost like a lightning bolt in between bites of potato skins at an Orlando-area TGI Friday’s.
He was 15 years old, the drummer in the school jazz band, prepping for the holiday concert with a few buddies and a mountain of appetizers. It was the sort of innocent teenage bliss that Americans prize — there’s an entire industry built on reconstructing an idealized adolescence — but for Frost, the carefree raucousness of youth came to a premature screeching halt as silence fell across the restaurant. Suddenly, all eyes were glued to the horror show airing live on one of the mounted televisions.
The scene, at least back then, was shocking: A disturbed gunman named Adam Lanza had stormed an elementary school in Newtown, CT, and went on a merciless rampage. Armed with an AR-15 and driven by delusions and paranoia, Lanza tore through the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 children and six teachers before turning the semi-automatic weapon on himself.
The show went on that night at Osceola School for the Arts, but Frost was distressed and distracted by what he’d seen on CNN. He could hardly keep the beat when it was time to play the holiday jazz standards. Music was now a side note. Frost’s path in life had irrevocably changed.
A month later, Frost successfully lobbied his parents to permit him to travel to Washington, DC for the Sandy Hook memorial service. Sitting at the reflecting pool across from the Washington Monument, he watched as Matthew Soto, the brother of one of the shooting victims, struggled to convey his raw grief to the world.
“His sister Vicky, when she heard the gunshots, hid her class in cabinets to make sure that they were safe, and he was crying, talking about how much he missed his sister,” Frost remembers. “Seeing a 15-year-old with the demeanor of a 60-year-old crying over his sister, who was murdered for going to school and protecting her kids — that was the moment for me. That was my call to action.”
When the memorial was over, Frost returned to his hotel room. On the phone with his parents back home in Florida, he told them about the event and the moment of clarity it provided. It meant It was going to be his life’s work, Frost said, “to fight for a world where no one has to ever feel the way I saw Matthew feel.”
The vow wasn’t the stuff of future aspirations, something to focus on after years spent messing around in college. Already preternaturally political, with a CV boasting an internship with President Obama’s re-election campaign that summer, Frost threw himself into organizing. He worked his way from the grassroots on up, volunteering for local organizations and advocacy groups before jumping on to national campaigns run by MoveOn, the ACLU, and Bernie Sanders.
As the national organizing director for March For Our Lives, the organization formed by student survivors of the Parkland massacre, Frost harnessed the energy and outrage of a generation that felt ignored and betrayed by both major political parties. His demands remain unfulfilled after years of lobbying, so now that Frost is old enough to serve in Congress, his next step is obvious.
At just 24 years of age, Maxwell Alejandro Frost is the leading candidate in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 10th Congressional district, a safe blue seat being relinquished by Rep. Val Demings during her run for US Senate. Black, Latino, and demanding immediate action, Frost embodies the diversity of Gen-Z and represents everything that the fascist right fears. He’s also been endorsed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus, and a long list of local leaders and national organizations.
It’s hard to argue that there’s been any age of enlightenment in a nation built on the backs of slave labor and historically hostile to women and minorities, but the current moment feels especially grim.
Decades of neoliberalism have hollowed out much of the country, giving rise to vast economic inequality and culture wars that literally put young people in the crosshairs. Forced into activism by violence and inert politicians’ failure to protect them, Gen-Z is the most politically militant generation to graduate into adulthood in at least half a century.
“We have been raised as the mass shooting generation, we have been raised in a political climate that is constantly poking and stoking civil unrest and mass uprisings. And we've come through this recognizing the fact that, wow, the world we live in isn't necessarily what we deserve,” Frost says. “We're a little bit more vocal about the things that we believe in and we expect the same thing out of our leaders.”
They aren’t alone in that regard. Last week’s primary election results should have delivered a clear-cut message to Democratic leadership: With fascism tightening its grip on the country and climate change wreaking havoc on the world, voters have no patience for the corporate centrism and the incrementalist half-measures that it produces.
Instead, voters are desperate for lawmakers who can at least pretend that they take seriously the social and environmental cataclysms headed our way. That desired urgency is something that Frost, who is seeking to become the first member of Congress from what he calls the “most in debt and stressed” generation, has put at the center of his campaign.
Polls show that the same young people that delivered Democrats a trifecta in DC in 2020 have now soured on the party, which has somehow baffled a leadership that is still trying to sell a bipartisan roads bill as a re-election worthy accomplishment.
“If we don't act on the climate now, there's [going to be] a point at which we can't do anything and we just have to be on the defensive. And that is a reality that, to be honest, most members currently in Congress won't be alive to face,” Frost says. “Young folks just have a vested interest in the future of this country that might hit a little closer to home than older folks, because we're going to be raising our kids in 10, 20, 30, and 40 years from now on this earth, drinking this water.”
While quick to acknowledge that the government certainly benefits from the stewardship of leaders with decades of experience, Frost is betting that his perspective will put a charge in a party that seems paralyzed by the scope of the nation’s problems and disconnected from the grueling slog that has become day-to-day life for so many Americans.
The policies that Frost supports and would pursue in office aren’t wholly unique; from backing the Green New Deal and Medicare for All to canceling student debt and banning automatic weapons, the list matches the platforms of most progressive candidates these days. His website offers more nuance than most, but what truly sets Frost apart is his troublingly rare ability to explain those positions without stumbling over poll-tested slogans and talking points. It marks a nice change for a party whose leaders so often kick themselves in the teeth every time they open their mouths.
Democrats have spent the past two years running as far away from the Black Lives Matter movement as possible, allowing Republican talking points and grossly misleading media narratives to drive them into frantic displays of affection for police departments nationwide. It’s gotten so dire that the party is turning to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has overseen a drastic increase in crime and responded by authorizing the brutal beatings of homeless people citywide, for messaging advice on the issue.
Instead, they might want to look to Frost, who is devoted to criminal justice reform — he worked on Amendment 4 while with the Florida ACLU — but has found a way to brand it as something palatable to broad swaths of people: Reimagining public safety.
“I've been arrested, I've been jailed for peaceful protests, I've been tear-gassed, I've seen the criminal justice system and what it does to people,” Frost says. “It's important for me that we work to move our system towards somewhere that's more equitable. Abolishing cash bail, getting rid of the death penalty, ensuring that throwing someone in that cage and throwing out the key isn’t the be-all, end-all for folks. I want to take a more humanity-centered approach to helping people out when they make a mistake.”
It’s essential to understand that no answer will please everyone, especially not the right-wing cabal that will call any Democrat a pedophile even as their financial and spiritual backers hide decades of institutionalized sex crimes. We’re veering on descending into a civil war. Empowering a new generation of leaders that understand the urgency of this moment, and can both activate a wary base of voters and fight for the changes so desperately needed, should be the first priority.
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