EFFINGHAM — Former U.S. representative Glenn Poshard is on a crusade to bring an end to the hatred and violence that has divided the country, and in doing so drew a small group of people to downtown Effingham Monday to join his effort. He was scheduled to stop in Shelbyville later in the day.
In Effingham, Poshard led the group around the old courthouse square as they carried signs of unity.
Poshard's call for unity and respect began after seeing a great degree of hatred and violence being spread on social media. Pondering what he and his wife, Jo, can do to stand up against violence, they turned to the 39 counties Poshard served when he was a congressman.
"We said we're going to go back to those counties, and we're going to talk to the people again, and we're going to talk about non-violence. So that we can stand for something that can help us achieve democracy, not hate our neighbors, not be violent with each other, because violence isn't only actions on the street. Violence is the way we talk to each other. It's the way we demean each other," he told those gathered Monday.
In speaking to the attendees, Poshard recalled the words of political figures who had a similar message — presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy and his good friend, John Lewis, a U.S. representative and Civil Rights figure who died in July.
Poshard shared with the crowd the time he spent with Lewis talking as they would walk back to their offices, which were right down the hall from each other, after working out.
"The one thing that John always talked about was the fact that to achieve those revolutionary beliefs for which our forefathers fought — equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness — you can't do it with violence. Violence will never get us there as a country, as a nation, as a democracy," he said.
Poshard recited the words of Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address that he believes resonate today in achieving respect. Among them was the unfinished work Lincoln referred to.
"As long as there are those who are denied the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, our work is unfinished," said Poshard. "He said this unfinished work remaining before us, every generation of Americans will speak to that unfinished work. We must, and that's why we're here today to show that we're Americans who stand for that."
Poshard also pointed to Lincoln's call for unity in his second inaugural address, even though those who came to hear it were prepared to hear words of retribution and vindication against the South following the Civil War.
"And what did they hear from their president? He said with malice toward none, with charity for all," said Poshard.
Nearly 100 years later, Kennedy spoke of the same ideals in his inaugural address.
"He said, 'We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change,'" Poshard told the crowd.
"We're standing in the great traditions of Americans when we stand for nonviolence," said Poshard.
Poshard said the reception he's received as he spreads his message to other counties has been "hugely positive."
"People are worried about what they're hearing and seeing throughout the country," he said.
Jasper County resident Sam Medernach came to Monday's rally because he said he's always been inspired by Poshard.
"Even though he was involved in politics, he believed that after the election you are there to represent Democrats and Republicans," he said.
Medernach said a lot of people, even Republicans, respect Poshard.
"He's always been point on," said Denise Stine, who came from St. Elmo.
Poshard believes his message is appropriate for both parties, noting Monday's event was not a political rally.
"I'm here to talk about the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Lincoln and how clear he made those to us even in the middle of time when we were totally divided as a people," he said.
Just as Lewis made nonviolence his life's work, Poshard said he's going to keep doing what he thinks is right.
"I'm 75 years old," he said. "So I'm not going to just stop."