That collective “Phew” rising up over our fruited plain is the national sigh of relief that the ugly political season of 2020 is one for the books.

Not so fast.

We are officially in the Year of the Municipal Election. Across Connecticut, hundreds of local elected officials are weighing their re-election options. I hope thousands more are seriously considering a challenge to the status quo.

Consider this: despite the vitriol and violence that infected the political landscape throughout 2020, voters returned 94 percent of incumbents to office, according to Ballotpedia. Connecticut’s incumbent return rate was 95 percent. Only one state, New Hampshire, flipped control of its state legislature.

The political landscape won’t change until citizens themselves begin tilling it. Cries of “foul” ring hollow if all people do is yell at their screens, mutter to their spouses, or rally to rail against “the man.” Facebook and Twitter are not the public square. Ad platform, therapist’s couch,  stage, mirror, echo chamber, brag sheet, cesspool, maybe. But forums for mature, constructive debate and action they aren’t.

If we are to unify, the body politic needs to engage.

Engagement requires sacrifice. The statement has become cliché. Frankly, though, the sacrifice is minor when weighed against the consequence of inertia – the erosion of the cornerstone of this country, which is the power granted to its citizens to chart the nation’s course. Let’s think of what’s at stake before we settle in to streaming 16 seasons of Arrested Development.

Considering a run? Do your homework to know what you’re getting into. I’m not talking just about time, although meetings can be interminable. Read the state statutes governing your targeted board or council. If your intention is to change direction of a governing body, understand its legislative framework. Then, get the low down from sitting members on how the council or board practically functions.

Meanwhile, temper, but don’t abandon, that inner rebel. Ideals are the raw material that fuel governing bodies and should never be dismissed except in their most extreme state. But you’re going to be one of many. If your opinions deserve a fair hearing, so do you others.’ Listen and probe respectfully, then vote in an informed and principled manner.  Your goal must be a consensus that best reflects the values of your community, not your personal agenda.

Finally, consider your town’s political committees, the Republican or Democratic town committees. Executives of these organizations may be as entrenched as the pol heading up the town council or board of education. Dare to clean house.

Civil discourse can’t be imposed from the top down; it must be cultivated from the ground up.

Faith Ham lives in Cheshire.

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