As a summer intern for the Ridge Policy Group, I don’t have a lot of experience at this point in my career. I’m a Gen Z student with an almost-complete Bachelor’s degree in Art History and Spanish from a small, liberal arts college in South Carolina. I have learned a foreign language, which has helped my communication skills. I was once a Government major. One of my favorite books from college is Coming Apart: The State of White America by Charles Murray. Beyond that, my course work in school has taught me from where the brand Banana Republic derives its controversial name. I could also curate a collection of Instagram posts inspired by refugee Tibetan artists to raise awareness about the China-Tibet relationship. Everything I know can be construed politically. Apart from that, my pertinence to a lobbying firm in central Pennsylvania is minimal. So why am I here?
It turns out lobbying is a lot like a liberal arts education. While I could joke that “liberal” refers to the stereotypical, left-leaning ideologies of students who are put through the ol’ college wringer, the adjective is actually a reference to ancient Greece’s education values. The “liberal arts” used to include the subjects and skills “essential to a free person to live a civic life”. If my education is tied to liberty and my role as a civilian, and lobbyists exist because of our liberty-infused democracy which enables civilians to contract lobbyists, then lobbyists and liberal arts must have a lot in common. Let me explain how.
Conversations at Ridge Policy Group transition seamlessly from infrastructure impact on stormwater in the Chesapeake watershed to the discussion about paper ballots in future elections. My friends and I jump from one political topic to the next just as easily. You saw a dolphin with a straw pierced through its nostrils on Facebook yesterday? Well, we’ll just have to bring our metal straws to our protest against the latest supreme court ruling while we sip our (fair-trade) cold brew. To be a lobbyist is to be a liberal arts student-activist; you must advocate for a variety of issues like a circus juggler balances spinning plates: on every fingertip and even the ridge of your nose.
Like students, lobbyists are conditioned to efficiently comprehend singular issues for short term periods. Their relationships with clients can be as intense and condensed as my semesters in college. The types of clients they have can be just as varied, including interest groups, companies, or small nonprofits. Some clients only need a lobbyist for a few months until the issues fizzles out. Shortly later, however, the next issue bubbles up. The lobbyists inundate themselves fervently with new knowledge — like a student beginning a new term. Lobbyists and students race towards the conclusion of the semester (or legislative session). The lobbyist’s A+ or degree in liberal arts is a law that implements the client’s desired policy.
When my graduating class gathers in one room, I often pause to appreciate what each of us brings to the table to better our community. I lobby for the value of art education while my neighbor promotes women in STEM. I also lobby my Campus Union for funding to upgrade the school newspaper’s design software, but the Student Body President intends to use our “Rainy Day Fund” to install printers in the seniors’ lounge. We all have our own requests from the bodies we represent, and some of us have more electoral power behind us. Lobbyists too have their own specialties and bodies they represent. To put it in Dr. Seuss’ manner: “one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish!”
At the end of the day, my liberal arts education is not in Government or even Public Policy. Art history may be considered a social science, but it is not even close to what my friends in political science study. However, as a proud, former Government major, I appreciate the function of government. My Netflix recent watches always include The West Wing, Madam Secretary, and Parks and Recreation (local government matters, too!). Still, I have found that my studies in Art History are comparable to lobbying. When asked to explain how an artist’s socio-economic history informs the stylistic choices, I must deliver an arguable but defensible analysis of a subjective work of art. A client’s issue is the work of art, the lobbyist is the art history student, and the policy-turned-law is the 15-page paper with a convincing thesis and vetted bibliography. While I just aspire for an A, the lobbyist’s hope is much larger: to answer the clients’ wishes with tangible change.
The work of a liberal arts student is clearly similar to that of a lobbyist. But are the types of relationships each maintains also alike? Do lobbyists get together with legislators at the local brewery come the end of Midterms? After the 2020 election, will people with both As and Cs join together? Midterm elections or midterm exams. I have seen that everyone likes to put aside politics for the sake of good times and good company.
For one final interpersonal parallel, it’s fair to note how the archetypes within a college campus are similar to the dynamics of government. Every microcosm has types of people who are essential to the function of the community. For example, that friend in the library who seemed to have studied consistently for the past three months and effectively tutored you so you could get that A-? That’s your lobbyist.
Lobbyists are who we count on to educate members of Congress, the white house and federal government, and local legislators. They are exceptional at studying. They learn quickly. While lobbyists may have a few clients at a time, they’ll never have as many clients as elected officials have constituents. No one should want uninformed legislators voting on bills — or unprepared students taking a final — which is why you and I want them in the class, working with legislators, a part of the community.
This article was written for Ridge Policy Group by Lydia Estes, an intern for Summer 2019.