The subdued and dignified inauguration of President Joe Biden on the steps of the nation’s capitol this week briefly erased the terrifying images of an institution under siege. For now, the center has held, and our democracy survives.

But the sense of grievance and distrust — with government, with the media and with practically anybody who holds opposing views — has trickled down, even here on Martha’s Vineyard. It comes through in posts on social media and comments to our newspaper. As the pandemic has curtailed opportunities for casual connection, the rift has only grown.

There are real and troubling problems and inequities on the Island, but many of these have little if anything to do with federal policies. There are real and legitimate differences of opinion, but too often these devolve into a volley of accusations and snarky labels. Conspiracy. Censorship. Fake news. Cancel culture.

Yes, we know who was the instigator-in-chief, but in the cruelest of ironies, the national conversation has all but drowned out conversations between and among neighbors. In the words of our new president, politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.

This is not a call for unity (though unity would surely be lovely), but a call for action. There is still opportunity, here on an Island eight miles offshore, to focus on things we can control, and perhaps model a new old-style of civic engagement.

Here are a few small steps:

1. Take an interest in Island government.

Meetings of boards of selectmen, school committees, town and regional commissions are all open to the public, and it is easier than ever to monitor and participate in them with a computer or smartphone and an internet connection. Notices of times and agendas are posted on town websites, with instructions on how to access meetings remotely. Most are also filmed by the Island’s public access television station and archived on its website at Of course, both this newspaper and the Martha’s Vineyard Times also cover these meetings.

2. Run for office, or seek appointment.

Each year, only a handful of elected seats on Island boards and commissions are contested, and positions appointed by boards of selectmen often go to the same few people who raise their hands.

3. Volunteer.

There are dozens of Island organizations with differing missions that need hands-on help and people willing to serve on advisory boards. Find a list of them here.

4. Vote.

This one is obvious. If you have any questions about the vote count, start by asking your town clerk.

5. Write letters, and sign them with your real name.

Many government actions require public comment, and elected officials really do read their mail. Letters to the editor, making fact-based, persuasive arguments, can also reach a larger audience. Posting nasty anonymous comments and claiming censorship when they aren’t published accomplishes nothing.

6. Call out baloney when you hear it.

Don’t be afraid to correct people when they spread false information, resort to personal attacks or use rhetoric that inflames instead of informs.

7. Perform small acts of kindness.

Check on a neighbor. Thank a front-line worker. Donate to a charity. Give a co-worker a compliment. Yield to drivers, even ones with out-of-state plates. It is harder to dislike people who are nice to you. And you might actually feel better yourself.