Stay politically fit during the off-season

The first breath of the sub-zero air instantaneously chills you to your core, and — no matter how many layers of clothing you are wearing — the cold touches your skin with the delicacy of a roofing hammer. It’s 4 a.m. and I about to go for a morning jog, but everything inside of me is screaming, “What the hell are you doing? Go back inside and drink coffee, weirdo.”

I don’t exercise because I am some fitness guru. I do it because I know that if I don’t, I’ll look and feel like Jabba the Hutt by the age of 40.

Though I am usually reluctant to work out during the wee hours of the day, I literally have a change of heart when the blood, oxygen, and endorphins start flowing through my body. The return on investment for my exercise regimen hasn’t produced astounding gains, but the pros far exceed the cons — so I keep at it.

I apply the same philosophy for my exercise regimen to my civic responsibilities: I keep at it. I write a lot of letters to the editor, keep in regular contact with my elected officials, volunteer for political campaigns, serve on my local planning commission, ran for office, and attend as many local city council meetings as I possibly can.

Sadly, I usually sit by myself during those council meetings. This always seemed strange to me, because when I ran for city council I was bombarded with outrage. Whether chatting with folks online or on their front porches, it was clear that people were not pleased with our local government. People seemed mad as hell, but — based on their attendance record at city council — they also didn’t seem interested in doing much about it.

Fast forward to the most recent midterm election, and that sentiment changed. Politics become vogue on Election Day. A furious cacophony of “get out the vote” call-to-actions and a barrage of “I voted” sticker selfies saturated my social media feed.

And then the vote shaming started. The very same people — who just recently blew two years worth of dust off of their civic duties — quickly claimed a moral high ground over those who decide to sit Election Day out.

“I can’t believe how many people don’t vote,” they lament. “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”

Then the Wednesday after Election Day came, and the boisterous volume of our Republic turned to an inaudible hum. Those demanding others be civically engaged return to their caves for their political hibernation where they will likely remain, only to reemerge for the next national election. Election Day for the politically active is very similar to New Years Day for gym enthusiasts: We dread the barrage of well-intentioned novices who will likely relapse into their old bad habits in a matter of weeks

I’m going to go against popular wisdom here: If the only political thing you do is vote, then you have no right to complain. While voting is hunky-dory, it represents a tiny iota of the political process. What a lot of voting enthusiasts don’t realize is that the true power to make a difference takes place during the 729 days leading up to Election Day. Candidates are already starting to form their election strategy. Parties are extrapolating polling data. Issue committees are prepping for the next petition drive. What you see on Election Day is the final result of countless machinations — many of which don’t make the final cut — set in motion by a small number of disparate groups and individuals.

Voting, by itself, is the equivalent of choosing between one of two pies without knowing what the ingredients are or who baked them in the first place.

It may seem like the season for your civic duty has come to conclusion, but it really is what you do now during the off-season that matters.

Here are some basic exercises that will keep you in shape during the political off-season. Stay engaged. Be informed. Read everything. Think critically. Communicate with your elected leaders on a regular basis. Civilly discuss the issues with others. Show up to public meetings. Sign up for citizen comments. Write letters to the editor. Donate money or time to causes that are important to you. Run for local office.

Sure, the very thought of it is exhausting. And I don’t recommend going overboard. Start slow and built up your routine over time; otherwise, you might hurt yourself. Just keep in mind that the body politic also needs its muscles stretched and strengthened, or else they will wither and atrophy.