Hill Day from an Intern's Perspective

Say someone asks you to imagine the quintessential law student. What kind of individual comes to mind? Be it positive or negative, based on stereotype or personal experience, there is something that virtually every law student shares in common: an inquisitive nature and a desire to learn. As a current law student, I can assure you that this trait is common across the board. As an intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition this semester, I guarantee you that there are few better opportunities for get-your-feet-wet-and-hands-dirty-style learning than the Chesapeake Bay Day on Capitol Hill.

Chesapeake Bay Day on Capitol Hill, affectionately and efficiently known as “Lobby Day” among Coalition members, was nothing short of a masterclass in how positive results stem directly from seamless organization and relentless adherence to a common message.

Lobby Day consisted of over 60 Coalition members from all across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed joining together in Washington, D.C. to lobby directly with elected representatives on behalf of clean water legislation and funding. In over 37 separate meetings with both House and Senate members and staff, the Coalition made its case for an impressive and important set of initiatives. “Asks” were made on behalf of level funding for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, Chesapeake Small Watershed Grants, Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants, and adequate funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in Fiscal Year 2017. Additionally, Members of Congress were asked to urge the USDA to increase the Regional Conservation Partnership Program funding for the Chesapeake region. We are listed as a priority, but have not received “priority” funding for some time.

If all of that seems daunting to you, I can assure you it is. In today’s political climate, when meaningful and impactful change seems to stall, Lobby Day is an extraordinary example of the process working like a well-oiled machine. There we were up on the Hill, all of us equipped with our commitment to cleaner water, zig-zagging from Senate side to House side (through the biting cold and wind, mind you) making ourselves seen and heard and holding our elected officials accountable.

Particularly remarkable was the warm reception we received. Granted, my meetings with the staff of Senator Mikulski, and Representatives Edwards, Cummings, and Sarbanes weren’t particularly tough sells. They have all demonstrated a consistent commitment to clean water during their respective tenures in office. But it wasn’t uncommon for the representatives and their staff to thank us—their constituents—for our tireless efforts on the front lines for the environment. It was wonderful and it was humbling.

Law school has a tendency to tunnel one’s vision just a bit. As students, we spend a majority of our time with our noses buried firmly in casebooks, awaiting our next assignment or exam. When you spend so much time in the classroom, it’s not hard to lose perspective on the reason we came back to school in the first place. Lobby Day was a wonderful reminder. I can read about governance for hours in my Constitutional Law class, debating doctrine and arguing how the law should or should not have progressed. But seeing governance in action and participating in the legislative process in real time—that is a horse of a different color.