Stephen L. Green Winner Seeks to Save Democracy

Jack Mahn '23 doesn’t want to see any more friendships ruined by politics.

“Growing up in Tennessee, many of my friends were in the opposite political party than me, but it never affected our relationship,” said Mahn, an economics and political science double major. “But with the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, my best friend became really hostile. I didn’t even recognize him anymore.”

The rift spurred him to write “Saving Democracy, One Citizen At a Time,” which was awarded the $5,000 top prize in the annual Stephen L. Green ’59 American Governance Essay competition.

“Jack's essay got the top prize in part because of the personal story he shared in his introduction, detailing how politics, and more specifically the 2020 election, created a rift between him and his best friend - and how this was representative of the way politics was tearing our nation apart.”

Professor Laurel Elder

Chair of the Political Science Department

The annual contest, which Stephen L. Green ‘59, PM ‘05, founded in 2012, challenges Hartwick students to write an essay that answers the prompt, “What is your assessment of the state of democracy in the United States, and what are three specific things you recommend in order to strengthen American democracy?”

“Mr. Green founded this contest because he is interested in effective government and concerned about the future of our democracy,” said Elder. “This competition very much fulfills the spirit of his goals by inspiring our students to wrestle with important issues in American government and democracy.”

Mahn’s essay opened by describing the moment he had to block his friend on social media. “We must begin saving American Democracy,” he wrote. “For if we don’t, many other ruined friendships, and, much worse, capital riots and political violence will become commonplace in our nation.”

His essay focused on “social capital,” or finding common spaces to exist in, whether they’re parks, bowling leagues, walkable spaces and storefront shopping. He wrote: “(Online shopping) makes the shopping experience that much more individualistic, as there is no opportunity to stop and interact with someone outside of your social circle.”

He proposed that investing in these kinds of social infrastructure would bring people back together.

"Americans desperately want to reconnect and rebuild the lost trust they had in one another."

Jack Mahn '23

Political Science Major

To help restore trust in the federal government, he recommended limiting gerrymandering and starting a 100-person “Citizens Assembly,” based on the census and registered voter data, to discuss, debate and pass along recommendations to the Senate.

“This creates a flow of new ideas filtering through the US Senate, rather than it being a body that produces its own legislation,” he wrote. “This will place citizens at the heart of the legislative debate and directly input the “consent of the governed” doing the governing.”

In all, 17 essays received prizes ranging from $250 honorable mention to Mahn’s $5,000 first prize.

“Mr. Green was interested in finding a way to incentivize young people to think seriously about the issues facing our democracy so that they can hopefully address these issues in a meaningful way in their work and their role as citizens,” said Elder. “And he thinks one of the best incentives is substantial cash prizes, hence the $20,500 in cash prizes that were awarded this year.”

Mahn and his friend have since made up, but he admits it isn’t the same as it once was. “I’m still debating whether or not to show him the essay,” he said. “But I think eventually, I will.”

May 17, 2023
What's New

Learn More About Hartwick

Hartwick Institute of Public Service Leadership Council Members Announced

The Institute of Public Leadership Council will draw on their areas of expertise to strengthen and bring greater visibility to the institute’s 2024-25 programming.

Delta Alpha Pi Making A Difference on so Many Levels at Hartwick College

Learn more about Hartwick College’s Eta Mu Chapter of the Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society established in 2021.