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'Thirty-Nine Counties' documentary highlights Glenn Poshard's call for unity, peace in divisive U.S.

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Poshard documentary

Glenn Poshard, shown here in a new documentary, planned walks in 39 counties he served as a Congressman. 

Glenn Poshard took to the sidewalks last year in the 39 counties he served as a Southern Illinois congressman to talk about peace and unity.

He used the words of two old documents as he spoke to the people who joined him in each county: the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“This government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth,” Poshard said, reciting the Gettysburg Address in each county.

On Saturday, Poshard's effort will come full circle with viewings of a documentary on his efforts called “Thirty-Nine Counties,” created by filmmaker Sandra Pfeifer.

The new film will be screened twice at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday in the Varsity Theater in Carbondale. Question and answers will follow each screening. The doors and bar will open at 4:30 p.m.

Poshard said one of the first friends he made in Congress was John Lewis, who passed away in July of last year.

“When I went to Congress in 1989, I walked to the house gym in the basement and there was a gentleman named John Lewis,” Poshard said.

For the next 10 years, Poshard worked out with Lewis, Richard Durbin and Peter DeFazio.

As he was mourning the death of Lewis, Poshard said he felt inundated with the violence, divisiveness and hatred he was seeing in the nation. He planned the walks to help people understand that they don’t have to agree to be nice.

“Thirty-Nine Counties” is about those walks around the courthouses in the 39 counties Poshard represented during his tenure in U.S. Congress, parts of two separate districts.

“The marches alone, all 39 of them, are a thing unto themselves,” Pfeifer said.

They showcase the grand stone courthouses across 17,800 miles of cornfields, farmland and two-lane highways. In each county, Poshard asked others to join him in those walks and spoke to the groups that gathered.

“People were alarmed at the talk of violence,” Poshard said. “You don’t have to go to Washington D.C.; you can do it in your own community. This is important that in your own community you can stand up.”

Poshard served in the Illinois Senate from August 1984 to January 1989. Poshard was a Congressman in the 22nd District from 1989 to 1990. As a result of losing a Congressional district from the 1990 Census, Poshard ran for the 19th District and won. He served as Congressman until 1998, when he ran an unsuccessful bid for governor.

Pfeifer said the film shows we all live in the same house and that loving each other is the evidence of democracy.

The film shows walkers who joined Glenn and his wife, Jo Poshard, at each courthouse with the signs they carried.

Pfeifer is a filmmaker who graduated from SIU in 1998. She has two documentaries that air on public television, one on rural homemakers and one on East St. Louis.

“Thirty-Nine Counties” was shot in cinema verite, according to Pfeifer. The film itself is still in rough form. Pfeifer said it will need full funding to get all the copyrights that are outstanding settled.

She hopes it will end up in a format that is acceptable to high school, community college and university classes and civil rights organizations will love it.

“Once you start down a path conservatively, it moves on,” Pfeifer said.

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