Maxwell Frost on Ron DeSantis, Hopes for a Progressive Florida, and the Power of Collective Movement
In 2021, I was a 24-year-old, working class Afro-Latino without millions in the bank — or, really, any money in the bank; without the significant political connections or traditional office experiences that make someone “qualified” to run for office. Everyone counted me out.
In Florida of all places — a state where our neofascist governor has stripped people of their reproductive rights, banned books, championed the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, and taken great pride in targeting minorities and vulnerable communities — I hit the campaign trail for 18 long months as a progressive candidate, looking to change the view of Florida on the national stage and, more importantly, to help the people of my community.
On November 8, 2022, as our state was hit with an immense red wave, I was elected the first Gen Z member of Congress. I was chosen by my community members to represent them, and it’s an honor I don’t take lightly.
In a state like Florida, where all hope for progressive change seems to be lost, I’m often asked where I find my hope to fight day in and day out. The answer is this: It’s the people. It’s the fact that thousands of people in Central Florida believed in me enough to serve them.
Make no mistake, what’s happening in my home state should have everyone upset and ready to fight back. For too many people, being a Floridian right now means waking up and seeing a constant barrage of tweets and news headlines that confirm the daily threats to our very safety and existence in the state.
If you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you feel like you have a target on your back. If you’re a woman or someone of reproductive age, you feel like you have a target on your back. If you're Black, brown, or Hispanic… You guessed it, it feels like you have a target on your back.
The consequences of this rhetoric and legislation can be tragically real: The murder of three innocent Black people in Jacksonville at a Dollar General store happened because of a white supremacist domestic terrorist who felt emboldened to go out and hunt Black people.
Ron DeSantis says Florida is where “woke” goes to die, but what he really means is that Florida is where diversity, democracy, and our fundamental freedoms are most under attack.
How, then, did a Gen Z drummer from the gun violence prevention movement get elected to Congress? It's simple: the people.
The people of Florida give me hope every single day.
In the face of a gubernatorial administration that embraces fascism, the people of Florida have never given up. I think of true leaders like Anna Eskamani, Carlos Guillermo Smith, Manuel Oliver, Angie Nixon, and Shevrin Jones, all of whom are committed to fighting on behalf of the people. They serve as beacons of hope for so many who feel unrepresented.
I think of public-school teachers in our state who selflessly give and often risk their all for students in the face of attacks on education. I think of organizers who dedicate their days to knocking on doors and engaging voters in protecting our right to vote, right to protest, and the right to live in safe, affordable communities free of gun violence and oppression.
These folks, whose causes and movements have, frankly, taken gut punch after gut punch, still stand tall and live to fight another day for the world they believe in.
That’s the Florida I know.
The Florida I know is also a place where people love one another. The Florida I know has championed legislation and initiatives to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated citizens, to expand access to medical marijuana, to ban offshore oil drilling on our coasts, and has fought hard against attacks that threaten these progressive beliefs.
The Florida I know is diverse in everything that makes us unique and human. If America is the land of opportunity, then for millions, Florida is its capital. It’s the place where immigrants from across South and Central America, the Caribbean, and beyond, searching for freedom, can achieve their American Dream. It’s a place where walking down the street on any given day means you can just as easily hear Spanish or Haitian Creole spoken as English.
It’s a state where folks love and respect one another. Where we believe hard work should be rewarded and everyone should have the opportunity to live and thrive without fear.
So how can leaders with hate in their heart come in and say they’ve won and erased decades of history and community values? They can’t. They haven’t won. They won’t win. Because the people won’t let them win.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” What’s happening across Florida — in communities so many of us know, love, and call home — is wrong. But the people of Florida are not giving up; I am not giving up. And that gives me all the hope in the world. The people bend that arc.
But the arc doesn't bend on its own. As long as we believe, as long as we do not lose hope, hope will remain alive. No one party or politician is going to save us — we, the people, are going to save us. Because we believe, because we care, because we love.
Teen Vogue is the young person’s guide to conquering (and saving) the world. We are the leading brand dedicated to amplifying the voice of young people on the issues they care about the most, across culture, fashion, politics, beauty, identity/wellness, and more.