Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images; Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images; Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Meteor; Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
It’s a new year, and with it comes a new Congress. This week, Brittany Luse sits down with the first Gen Z member to be raised to its ranks, Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida. They talk about his vision for the future, the literal costs of entering the halls of power and getting a shoutout from his favorite band after winning his election. Then, what could Congress do better in 2023? NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis gives Brittany her thoughts on new year’s resolutions for lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
The interview highlights below are adapted from an episode of It’s Been A Minute. Follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and keep up with us on Twitter. These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
On getting a shoutout from The 1975
Rep. Maxwell Frost: I joke around that there are two moments where it finally hit me that I’m going to Congress. The first one was when I first went on the House floor on the Sunday night after I was elected. But almost more than that was standing at the Anthem, the [music] venue in D.C., with some of my best friends and family and just people I love. And then hearing, you know, my favorite band since like 2013, like when I was in high school, shout me out. It was like a three-minute, four-minute thing, and then they dedicated a great song – “Love It If We Made It” – to me. And what an emotional – I was like crying and jumping and having a good time.
Brittany Luse: It’s frankly one of the most Gen Z political songs that I’ve heard, referencing everything from Lil Peep and opioids – you know, he’s someone who died of a drug overdose – to police violence and Donald Trump. Thematically, it seems like there’s a lot there and it makes sense that they would dedicate that song to you. What do you think about that?
Frost: Something that I like to talk about when people ask me about Gen Z, you know, is I don’t see myself as this representative. It’s a generation, right? Gen Z leaders – in that are teachers, clergy, artists. We’re all representative of our generation. So when I talk about the generation … there’s so much trauma that binds us together. I’ll ask folks of different generations for moments that they really that are defining for their generation. For a lot of folks, you’ll hear the moon landing. For other folks, you’ll hear post-9/11, when the country really came together. I was like three when 9/11 happened. Right. And so like that, like post, you know, our country coming together despite our differences, I don’t remember that. It wasn’t a significant part of my life. Not because it’s not significant.
Luse: No, [but] because you were like learning to count.
Frost: Because I was in nap time. And so for me, when I think about the things in my generation that are like pivotal moments, I think about the lynching of a Black man in broad daylight, George Floyd. And seeing that on Twitter. I think about Parkland, Pulse, where 49 angels were murdered right here. Because because they’re queer, like I think about Breonna Taylor, I think about Little Peep, I think about all this trauma and death that our generation has really lived in and marinated in… And now we’re growing up and we know things are messed up. And we want to be a part of the solution.
On being the youngest person in the room
Luse: I wonder how you plan to continue to advocate for these issues that you care about, like gun violence and the climate crisis? Like those are issues that we’ve seen are of utmost importance to Gen Zers. But many politicians of the baby boomer generation and the silent generation, they don’t always treat those issues with the same urgency.
Frost: Yeah. No, 100%. And to be clear, most of the time when I face ageism in Congress, it’s not going to be someone coming up to me and saying, “You’re young. You don’t belong here.” It won’t be overt like that. It’s going to be implicit. It’s going to be little comments. I’m used to it because I’ve always been the youngest person in the room in many of my jobs.
Now, how do we get things done? What the thing I always keep in mind is, we have to build coalitions and we have to understand that I’m not going at this alone on any of these issues. When we talk about the climate crisis, I am folding into a movement of not just young people, but folks across this country, both older and younger, who have been fighting because they understand that the cost of not doing anything is far greater than the cost of taking bold action. And so it’s like that Maya Angelou quote: “I come as one, yet I stand as 10,000.” That’s the way I see myself walking into these rooms. And that fortifies me… because it’s not just Maxwell Frost speaking, it’s the 10th Congressional District that elected me here. And it’s the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of people who believe in a world where everybody has the resources they need.
On what it costs to have a seat at the table
Luse: You actually made headlines this year after you were elected, when you were denied for an apartment in Washington, D.C., because of your low credit score. What interested me about that moment was that it was reported that at least part of the reason for your poor credit history is that you maxed out credit cards to win your congressional seat. What does that tell us about the barrier to entry for representing our communities in Congress?
Frost: The whole point of me talking about that was, number one, to talk about the crisis of housing that we have in this country right now. But number two, we have to talk about the entryway to power, the seats of power. And the fact of the matter is, when that entryway filters out poor and working-class people who don’t have enough capital to run a campaign… or [to] find a place to live once they win the campaign, it determines who makes it to the seat of power. So no one should be surprised when Congress’s net worth continues to rise up and up and up, because we have a system that essentially makes it damn near impossible for anybody else to make it. That’s really the point here. It’s not that in two years, Maxwell’s going to be OK. It’s the fact that right now, as a working-class organizer who had to [drive for] Uber during the campaign to pay my bills or run up a ton of credit card debt because I didn’t have an income really coming in: How do we make it easier for working class people to run for these seats of power and to actually assume these seats, so we have real representation?
This episode of ‘It’s Been a Minute’ was produced by Barton Girdwood, Liam McBain, Alexis Williams and Corey Antonio Rose. The interview with Maxwell Frost was edited by Jessica Mendoza. Our supervising editor is Jessica Placzek. Engineering support came from XYZ and our fact checker was ABC. Our executive producer is Veralyn Williams. Yolanda Sangweni is our VP of Programming, and our Senior VP of Programming is Anya Grundmann.