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The Shen Prize: The Ongoing Struggle Against the Corrupting Influence of Money in Politics

By Alden Mehta, V Form

The Shen Speech Prize: The Ongoing Struggle Against the Corrupting Influence of Money in Politics

THE SHEN PRIZE is awarded to the winner of a public speaking contest among Advanced Placement United States History students on the topic of democracy. The prize is given by Y.L. Shen in honor of his daughters, Ing-ie (Ava) Shen of the Class of 1988 and Ing-Chuan (Judy) Shen of the Class of 1989.

Is it possible for influence in American politics to be bought? The answer is yes. In theory, a true democracy adequately represents the voice of its people, showing no bias towards status, identity, or wealth. We should see this representation reflected in the profiles of the politicians elected through the democratic process. However, in the US, political candidates rely on generous contributions from the wealthy to fund increasingly expensive campaign efforts. Through these contributions, the rich gain a degree of undue influence in politics; instead of reflecting the concerns of their electoral bases and amplifying the voices of the general public, we see politicians prioritizing the interests of their biggest donors. Campaign funding, rather than public interest, drives their work. This hole in American democracy led to the enactment of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), authored by Senator John Pastore (D-RI), in 1974. FECA sought to remove the corrupting influence of money from politics. Ultimately, FECA did not eliminate the importance of money in politics, but was still an expansion of democracy in the US because it set a lasting standard for campaign spending and contributions and increased government regulation in order to limit the influence of money in politics. 

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Shen Prize Winner “Women in World War II: Women’s Army Corps to Second Wave Feminist Movement”

By Cadence Summers, VI Form

Women in World War II: Women’s Army Corps to Second Wave Feminist Movement

Editor’s Note: The Shen Prize is a speech competition for V Formers responding to the prompt: What is a moment of significant expansion or contraction of United States’ democracy? The 2020 recipient of the Shen Prize was Catie Summers.

“For all the girls in the [Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadrons], I think the most concrete moment of happiness came at our first review. Suddenly and for the first time, we felt a part of something larger. Because of our uniforms, which we had earned, we were marching with the men, marching with all the freedom-loving people in the world.” This is an excerpt from the poem At Twilight’s Last Gleaming, written by Cornelia Fort, one of the first woman pilots in the United States.

During World War II, the United States government drafted as many male soldiers as possible. Although thousands were automatically selected, just as many were needed to stay on the homefront to support the war effort through non-combat roles, which prompted the government to replace men in the workforce with women.  During wartime, women’s employment rate increased 25%, and over 350,000 women served in the U.S. military. This increase in women’s employment and the diversification of jobs available to them is an expansion of American democracy. American democracy is fluid, ever-changing, and situational. As the country adapts and advances, so too does its democracy. These fluctuations occur in time with shifts in political climates thus the inclusivity and definition of American democracy at a given time correlates to the status of the country at that time. The introduction of the Women’s Army Corps, also known as WAC, during World War II represents an expansion of American Democracy due to the situational requirements of a nation at war. This expansion not only gave women the option to support the war effort by taking on traditionally male roles in the workforce and military, but also for the duration of the war, granted these women access to a society in which their work and contributions outside of the home were as valued as those within it.

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