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|Education||Pomona College (no degree)|
|No party preference (2014)|
Marianne Deborah Williamson (born July 8, 1952) is an American author, spiritual leader, and political activist. She has written 13 books, including four New York Times number one bestsellers in the "Advice, How To, and Miscellaneous" category. She is the founder of Project Angel Food, a volunteer food delivery program that serves home-bound people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. She is also the co-founder of the Peace Alliance, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization supporting peace-building projects. She has received national attention as a result of her frequent appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was known as Oprah's "spiritual adviser."
On January 9, 2019, she announced her campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 United States presidential election. She suspended her campaign on January 10, 2020, a few days after laying off her campaign staff. She later endorsed Bernie Sanders at a rally in Austin, Texas on February 23, 2020. She was hired as a columnist for Newsweek shortly after the conclusion of the campaign.
Early life and education
Williamson was born in Houston, Texas, in 1952. She is the youngest of three children of Samuel "Sam" Williamson, a World War II veteran and immigration lawyer, and Sophie Ann (Kaplan), a homemaker and community volunteer. Her older brother, Peter, became an immigration lawyer. Her late sister, Elizabeth "Jane", was a teacher. Her father, and maternal grandparents, were Russian-Jewish immigrants. Her grandfather changed his surname from Vishnevetsky to Williamson after seeing "Alan Williamson Ltd" on a train.
Williamson was raised upper-middle-class in Conservative Judaism. Her family attended Congregation Beth Yeshurun, which was later damaged by Hurricane Harvey. She learned about world religions and social justice at home, but first became interested in speaking from the pulpit on social matters when she saw her rabbi speak against the Vietnam War. Her family also traveled internationally during the summers when she was a child. She has said that it was through travel that she "had an experience, at a young age, that people are the same everywhere."
Williamson attended Houston ISD's Bellaire High School. After graduating, she spent two years studying theater and philosophy at Pomona College in Claremont, California, where she was a roommate of eventual film producer Lynda Obst. In 1973, Williamson—an active antiwar protester—dropped out of college and lived "a nomadic existence" during what she calls "her wasted decade." She moved to New Mexico, where she took classes at the University of New Mexico and lived in a geodesic dome with her boyfriend. She broke up with her boyfriend a year later and moved to Austin, Texas, where she took classes at the University of Texas. After leaving Texas, she went to New York City, intending to pursue a career as a cabaret singer, but got distracted by "bad boys and good dope." Vanity Fair wrote that Williamson "spent her twenties in a growing state of existential despair". In New York, Williamson suffered from deep depression following the end of a relationship. She has said that this experience gave rise to a desire to spend the rest of her life helping people.
A Course in Miracles
In 1975, Helen Schucman published A Course in Miracles, a curriculum for spiritual transformation. Schucman was a clinical psychologist and research psychologist who was a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University from 1958 to 1976. After being in a long-term "stressful professional environment," and seeking a way to address the contention, Schucman began to have a series of inner experiences that she understood as visions, dreams, heightened imagery, and an "inner voice" that reportedly revealed itself to her as Jesus.
A year after the book was published, Williamson (who was experiencing confusion about God and wondering why He allowed so much pain in the world) was at a party in New York and picked up a copy of A Course in Miracles from a coffee table. She dismissed the book because, being Jewish, she was put off by its Christian terminology. Williamson then moved to San Francisco. While there, she developed an interest in spirituality, metaphysics, and meditation. She began reading the Course "passionately" and doing its 365 daily exercises. She also reconciled it with her Jewishness; in her view, "A conversion to Christ is not a conversion to Christianity. It is a conversion to a conviction of the heart. The Messiah is not a person but a point of view".
Williamson said that the book was her "path out of hell," as she had been "mired in a series of unhappy love affairs, alcohol and drug abuse, a nervous breakdown, and endless sessions with therapists." She was captivated by the book's message on forgiveness, specifically the notion that one cannot find peace in life without forgiving others. Williamson said that made her realize "how many of my problems stemmed from my fear of other people."
A Course in Miracles [is] a self-study program in spiritual psychotherapy. It is a book that is based on universal spiritual themes. It is not a religion. It does not claim any kind of monopoly on truth. It has no dogma. It has no doctrine. It talks about love and forgiveness and I think that many of the people who are students of A Course in Miracles come from all religions and even no religion. The book says nothing about [Jesus]. The book does not get us to try to believe in God. [...] The book tries to get us to believe in each other.
In 1979, Williamson returned to Houston, where she ran a metaphysical bookstore coffeeshop, sang Gershwin standards in a nightclub, got married and divorced "almost immediately," and underwent a "spiritual surrender".
In 1983, Williamson had what she has called a "flash" to close the coffeeshop and move to Los Angeles. She said she felt the city would be welcoming to her because of its willingness to "start new conversations." She made the move with $1,000 in her pocket. She got an apartment in Hollywood. Her roommate was 17-year-old Laura Dern, who noted that Williamson "held prayer groups in our living room." Williamson got a job at the Philosophical Research Society. As part of their lecture series, she started speaking about A Course in Miracles as "a self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy." Her lectures were grounded in her belief that by consulting the Course, every problem can be solved, and that miracles are possible through a change in perspective. According to Williamson, "All that a miracle is is a shift in perception from fear to love. It’s simply the notion that when your world view changes, your behavior changes".
Williamson's teachings stemmed from an inspirational message: "Divine love is the core and essence of every human mind." She saw this message as a remedy to misinterpretations of the Bible that, through an emphasis on sin and guilt, could lead to harm (e.g. slavery, depression, self-loathing). Initially, only a few people attended her lectures. But as word spread about "the young woman talking about a God who loves you, no matter what", she had to rent church space to accommodate the demand to see her. Four years later, she began lecturing monthly in New York. Eventually she was invited to speak throughout the U.S. and Europe. Williamson did not charge for her lectures, but had a "suggested donation" of $7 ($15 as of 2014) and a policy of not turning people away for lack of money.
Williamson's style was called a "trendy amalgam of Christianity, Buddhism, pop psychology and 12-step recovery wisdom". The attraction of her teaching was said to have been "its focus on the power of the individual to conquer all without the help of stodgy institutions that are out of touch with modern generations." People were said to have been drawn to her relatability (given her struggles in her own life) and to her oratory. Williamson "filled a void left by the isolationism of established Christianity and Judaism, maintained an open-door policy with her teaching, but did not engage in actively evangelizing the Course, saying that she believed doing so would devalue the spirit of the teaching".
At the height of her popularity, in 1998, Williamson sold her $2.7 million home. She decided to stop teaching and join the ministry. She said, "I had a lot going on in my life. I just felt I had to leave. I had a baby."[failed verification] Williamson said that becoming a pastor was a way "to get dirt in her fingers again"—"to experience the day-to-day lives of hundreds of people"—and would be helpful in her work as a spiritual guide.
Williamson became the "spiritual leader" for the Church of Today, a Unity Church in Warren, Michigan, where she had 2,300 congregants and 50,000 television viewers. She booked high-profile musical guests such as Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, expanded the bookstore, more than tripled declining church membership, increased the congregation's racial and sexual orientation diversity, brought the church out of mounting debt, and grew the church into one of the country's biggest Unity churches.
Williamson resigned from the Church Renaissance Unity Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship in 2003.
- A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution (2019)
- Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment (2016)
- The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money and Miracles (2012)
- A Year of Miracles: Daily Devotions and Reflections (2011)
- A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever (2010)
- The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife (2007)
- On USA Today's best-seller list for four weeks, it is about how to approach midlife by not dwelling on lost youth but starting new opportunities.
- The Gift of Change: Further Reflections on a Course in Miracles (2004)
- Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness and Making Miracles (2002)
- Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships (1999)
- About building a spiritual relationship between partners, the book advocates "a new model of romance with love, righteousness, compassion."
- Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens (1997)
- The book was originally titled The Healing of America. It is about developing more robust political engagement by laying out plans to "transform the American political consciousness and encourage powerful citizen involvement to heal our society" by turning spiritual activism into sociopolitical activism.
- A Woman's Worth (1993)
- A New York Times bestseller that according to Publishers Weekly gave "sound, empowering advice on relationships, work, love, sex and childrearing." The Vancouver Sun used a passage from the book in summarizing it:
The world, as it is, has very little use for womanhood. You are considered a weaker sex and considered a sex object. You are thoroughly dispensable except for bearing children. Your youth is the measure of your worth and your age is the measure of your worthlessness. Do not look to the world for your sustenance or for your identity as a woman because you will not find them there. The world despises you. God adores you.
- Illuminata (1993)
- On USA Today's best-seller list for 20 weeks, the book is about how prayer is practical in everyday life by looking to God to transcend life's pains.
- On The New York Times bestseller list for 39 weeks in the "Advice, How To and Miscellaneous" category, the book teaches that practicing love every day will bring more peace and fulfillment to one's life. Williamson wrote her most famous quote in this book, which is often misattributed to Nelson Mandela:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Oprah Winfrey said of the book, "I have never been more moved by a book than I am by this one." Winfrey bought 1,000 copies and encouraged her audience to purchase it, telling them that after reading it, she experienced 157 miracles. Williamson was a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show as well, and became known as Oprah's "spiritual advisor."
Williamson has said that she often wonders why "so many people in the richest country in the world have to constantly transcend material conditions that are so unnecessary."
In the 1980s Williamson began founding charities based on the principles in the Course.
Centers for Living
In 1987, during lunch with a close friend who was struggling with breast cancer, Williamson's friend expressed a need for help: "She said that for years she had been looking for someone to help her heal and now she needed someone to help her die." This request inspired Williamson to create the Center for Living.
After David Geffen contributed $50,000, Williamson co-founded the organization with Louise Hay—a minister of the New Thought Church of Religious Science who claimed to have healed herself of cancer—as a refuge from, and to offer non-medical support for, people with "life-challenging illnesses." Williamson took no salary from the organization.
The Center for Living began helping many patients afflicted with HIV/AIDS, particularly gay men, whom it welcomed and accepted when other places shunned them. The Center provided services such as house-cleaning, meditation, massage and community/psychological/emotional support throughout Los Angeles.
In 1989, with another $50,000 from Geffen, Williamson opened another Center for Living in New York, but it was hampered by conflict between staff and the board over Williamson's management style, which an unnamed former associate described as "very controlling." There was also a rift because, while the Los Angeles Center welcomed Williamson's use of prayer in her teachings and the use of the word "God", the more secular New York Center rebuked it.
Someone said you would hear checkbooks slamming shut all over Sotheby’s (site of a fund-raising auction) if Marianne got up and led everyone in prayer.— Jean Halberstam, Journalist
Williamson grew frustrated with being asked to not pray:
God is definitely out of the closet. I refuse to pretend we don't pray here. One of the reasons the political right-wing in this country has had such an upsurge in popularity is because they have at least acknowledged the idea of God, and the so-called liberals have lost by default. The left-wing is too cool to even mention God, so -- Middle America thinks, 'Well, I guess God's in the Republican Party.'
A few months later, after two of her board members told Vanity Fair that she wanted "to be famous", Williamson deemed that she was being treated as "expendable" and purged the board of several members, including film director Mike Nichols, and the head of the New York Center. Some people believed Williamson was losing trust in several board members and preemptively fired them before they fired her. She disputed that, claiming that she intended to step down as president and wanted to give her successor a clean slate.
The two coastal Centers ended up parting ways, with Nichols going on to create a rival AIDS support organization.
Williamson's defenders said that, as the founder and president of the board, she was within her rights to want a staff aligned with her vision, and that it was "unfair to charge her with a mania for control simply because she didn't want her creation usurped by hostile rivals":
Marianne is not a god. She’s a human being. She has, you know, insecurities and fears, and she gets angry when things aren’t done right.— Howard Rosenman, Board Member of Project Angel Food, 1992
Williamson stepped down from the Center in the summer of 1992. The New York Center was able to remain open following a donation from Cher. Williamson gave the organization a $50,000 check and "graciously walked away." She remained an advisor to the organization.
Project Angel Food
In 1989, Williamson launched Project Angel Food to support HIV/AIDS patients. The program was operated by The Centers for Living, but became so successful that its name recognition outgrew its parent company. By 1992 it had raised over $1.5 million and was delivering nearly 400 hot meals a day to home-bound AIDS patients in Los Angeles. Williamson deemed the demand for the organization's services to be a positive sign about HIV/AIDS:
It means that more and more people are living with AIDS, not dying of AIDS. It means we're getting closer and closer to making AIDS a chronic, manageable disease.
Williamson resigned from Project Angel Food in March 1992 amid infighting, two months after the board fired executive director and gay activist Steve Schulte, with some speculating that Williamson—who had been open about her wanting him gone—was responsible for the firing. Schulte, who had been the Center's third executive director in five years, was well-liked among the employees because he lobbied for salary increases, but clashed with Williamson over the operational approach to running the organization. His firing led a majority of the remaining employees to call for Williamson's resignation, his reinstatement, the replacement of the entire board, and unionization if Williamson remained. Stephen Bennett, a consultant hired to assess the situation, determined that there were more paid staff on hand than needed, but with a union vote pending, Bennett refused to lay employees off. It was determined that the best option was for Williamson to resign.
Williamson was reportedly torn about stepping down and "very opposed to the unionization of volunteer organizations."
The organization made no announcement about Williamson's departure, and following her resignation, the employees decided not to unionize. The organization initially struggled in her absence, as she had been its most effective fundraiser. Within six months of her departure, the organization was restructured. Over 35 percent of the staff was laid off and counseling services were ceased to over 200 clients, which staff who had been loyal to her called "karmic payback for pushing Marianne out of the picture."
Project Angel Food was able to remain operational after Williamson's departure. By 1998 it had over 1,500 volunteers and nearly 1,000 clients. As of 2018, with expanded food, nutrition and counseling services, it delivered 12,000 meals weekly throughout Los Angeles and had 55 employees, over 3,000 volunteers, nearly 1,500 clients, and revenue of nearly $4 million. In 30 years Project Angel Food has provided and delivered 12 million meals. Williamson remains a trustee of the organization.
Williamson has been credited with helping thousands of gay men who "were told that they weren't loved by their family and friends, employers, politicians, hospitals. [...] It was more about that feeling of hope that she gave to all these people, and they all died." Calling herself a "midwife to the dying", Williamson officiated at funerals, drove men to the doctor, and paid for patients' AIDS medication. Some who worked with her said that Williamson was "at the center" of the tragedy, assisting patients without regard.
During her 2020 presidential campaign, Williamson has often been accused of telling gay men not to take medication for AIDS, of implying that they were "not positive enough" to counter the disease, of telling them that they "deserved" the disease, and of telling them to "pray the AIDS away". She has repeatedly denied these accusations, as have several gay men who worked with her at the time. Most of the accusations stem from excerpts or paraphrases of her 1992 book A Return to Love. But she says that the excerpts and paraphrases distort her meaning.
Detractors accuse Williamson of being a grifter who "deluded dying men to concentrate on their spiritual well-being rather than on activism." Supporters say she is being maligned for a book written nearly 30 years ago, when the understanding of HIV/AIDS was in its infancy, which provided "solace to gay men when they were afflicted with paranoia, loneliness, and grief." She is said to have emphasized the healing power of prayer, believing that God can respond to prayers through medicine and science, and would lead prayers for a medical solution to AIDS.
Williamson has said that at that time, when the medical industry had no cure or treatment for the disease—contracting it "was a death sentence"—and there was a "weird silence" from organized religion, gay men came to her because she was "talking about a God who loves you no matter what and miracles." She credits gay men in Los Angeles for her career, saying that they were living through a traumatic experience, dealing with the stress of guilt, shame, dying, and, in many cases, telling unsupportive family, and that they began coming to her lectures because:
I was talking every week about how love worked miracles and how, as long as we loved each other, everything was going to be ok.
The Peace Alliance
In 1998 Williamson co-founded the non-profit Global Renaissance Alliance (GSA) with Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch. The organization established a network of "citizen salons" to pray for national growth, peace and liberal causes.
According to Williamson, the GSA sat in small groups, "Peace Circles", of fewer than 12 people every other week and prayed together to articulate a vision for what they want, rather than what others don't want.
In 2004 the GSA's name was changed to The Peace Alliance and given a new mandate focused on grassroots education and advocacy organization with the intent of increasing U.S. government support for peace-building approaches to domestic and international conflicts. The Peace Alliance taught peace activists how to lobby their congressional representatives. Williamson said of the need for this work:
You don't just wait until there is a violent eruption and then just try to throw people in jail or just wait until there is a violent eruption and then try to bomb an entire country, there's just a limit past which this is not workable. Rather, you proactively seek to cultivate the conditions of peace. [...] [S]o we can have a much more sophisticated analysis of what it will take to create a more peaceful world."
The Alliance has raised over $100 million in funding for international peace-building. It has also helped get provisions of the Youth PROMISE Act, embedded in the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed into law. The California Democratic Party adopted key Peace Alliance priorities into its platform.
"Sister Giant" conferences
In 2010 Williamson launched "Sister Giant", a series of conferences to "start a new conversation about transformational politics" and encourage more women to run for office: Williamson saw herself as a "cheerleader," supporting women who had never been politically involved, on the campaign level, but who might be considering, 'Why not me?'"
In 2012, Yale University's Women’s Campaign School—an independent, nonpartisan, issue-neutral political campaign training and leadership program hosted at Yale Law School—partnered with the series, which focused on how to better address many social issues, including child poverty, campaign finance reform, and high incarceration rates
No matter who wins the election in November, something even more fundamental needs to be addressed in this country than simply the differences between the two parties. We don't just need new political policies; we need a new politics. We need a new worldview. We need to become more sober stewards of the extraordinary narrative of American history. The most conscious minds are turned off to politics for a reason: it's mean, toxic, corrupt and so forth. But there's a conundrum there, if we're not careful; we can't just not engage. But we need to engage it in a new way, and Sister Giant is simply part of the emerging conversation.
For several years until 2017, Williamson was a board member of Results Educational Fund (RESULTS), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity dedicated to finding long-term solutions to poverty by focusing on its root causes, and its sister organization, Results Inc., a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organization that encourages "grassroots advocates to lobby their elected officials" and works "directly with Congress and other U.S. policymakers to shape and advance" anti-poverty policies. The organization has 100 U.S. local chapters and works in six other countries.
Williamson continues to serve on a "Council of Advisors," providing informal advice to the organizations.
Love America Tour
In the winter of 2018, Williamson began touring the United States as part of her Love America Tour, two-hour sessions discussing her belief that "a revolution in consciousness paves the way to both personal and national renewal." She used the slogan "Ignite the Change" to propel the tour along with the message:
Our own disconnection from the political process, lack of knowledge of how our system operates, lack of understanding of our history, and confusion about many of the issues that confront us now, have led in too many cases to a dangerous emotional disconnection between our country and ourselves.
Williamson likened her message to that of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said:
Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.
2014 U.S. House of Representatives campaign
In 2014 Williamson ran as an Independent for California's 33rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was praised as a "tireless" campaigner but criticized for not articulating specifics in her plans. Her supporters deemed her lack of plans a strength and said she was not a "made-to-order candidate" who gave "lip service."
Prominent elected and public officials endorsed her campaign, including Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream); former governors Jennifer Granholm and Jesse Ventura; former representatives Dennis Kucinich and Alan Grayson; and Van Jones. Alanis Morissette wrote and performed Williamson's campaign song, "Today".
Williamson campaigned on progressive issues such as campaign finance reform, women's reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. She raised $2.4 million, of which she personally contributed 25 percent.
Williamson finished fourth out of 18 candidates, with 14,335 votes or 13.2 percent of the vote (Republican Elan Carr finished first in the primary with 21.6 percent of the vote, but then lost the general election to the top vote-getting Democrat from the primary, Ted Lieu). Williamson said of the process and its outcome:
This conversation of a politics of conscience, a politics of the heart, is much bigger than any one woman winning a congressional seat. And if that woman loses, the conversation goes on. My losing the congressional seat is small; what's big is the larger conversation. [...] [Y]ou impact the ethers, and that energy goes somewhere.
2020 presidential campaign
On November 15, 2018, Williamson announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee in a video in which she said that there was a "miracle in this country in 1776 and we need another one [that would require] a co-creative effort, an effort of love and a gift of love, to our country and hopefully to our world."
On January 19, 2019, while visiting New Hampshire, Williamson said that she had "received enough positive energy to make me feel I should take the next step," and subsequently hired Brent Roske to lead her operation in Iowa.
Williamson, who has stated her disbelief in "traditional politics" and thinks that "they must be overridden," expressed her view that inspiration is underrepresented in political conversation and her thought that the foundations of American democracy were under threat, necessitating a "whole-person politics that speaks to emotions and psychology."
On January 28, 2019, Williamson officially launched her presidential campaign, in front of 2,000 people in Los Angeles, and appointed Maurice Daniel––who served alongside Donna Brazile in Dick Gephardt's campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1988––as her national campaign manager, with her campaign committee, "Marianne Williamson for President", officially filed on February 4.
On February 16, Williamson's campaign announced the appointment of former Congressman Paul Hodes, who represented New Hampshire's 2nd congressional district from 2007 to 2011, as New Hampshire state director and senior campaign advisor.
As of May 1, Williamson had a campaign staff of 20 and, a week later, announced that she had received enough contributions from unique donors to enter the official primary debates. Her campaign had raised $1.5 million in the first quarter of 2019, during which it received donations from 46,663 unique individuals. Williamson subsequently met the polling criteria, with three unique polls at 1% from qualifying pollsters, on May 23.
In June, Williamson confirmed that she moved to Des Moines, Iowa in advance of the 2020 caucuses. And in response to the Iowa Democratic Party's proposed creation of "virtual caucuses" in the 2020 race, Williamson's campaign announced that it would appoint 99 "Virtual Iowa Caucus Captains" (each assigned to a single county) to turn out supporters in both the virtual and in-person caucuses.
Later that month, Williamson participated in the first primary debate. She spoke for four minutes and 58 seconds, placing her 17th in speaking time of the 20 candidates. The LA Times wrote that Democratic voters were "confused" and "transfixed" by Williamson, who declared that her first act as president would be to call New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and say, "Girlfriend, you are so on", a reference to Ardern's emphasis on building a country that treats its children well.
On July 30, Williamson participated in the second primary debate. She spoke for eight minutes and 52 seconds. Despite placing 19th in speaking time, she was the most Googled candidate in 49 of 50 states and received the fourth-most attention on Twitter. The spike in searches was prompted by her reference to the Flint water crisis (which she described as a "part of the dark underbelly of American society") and her assertion that President Trump was harnessing a "dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred" which she later described as racism, bigotry, antisemitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia propelled by social media.
Her campaign complained that her name was often excluded from surveys. She also expressed frustration with the media establishment for not granting her the same level of respect Ben Carson or Herman Cain was afforded in previous elections, and for mocking and dismissing her candidacy:
Who the hell are they to say who is a serious candidate? Who are they to say 'you know who' is a long shot?
On the day of the third DNC debate, for which she did not qualify, Williamson did an interview with Eric Bolling and expressed further frustration with the media when she thought she was not being recorded. Among her unscripted comments was "what does it say that Fox News is nicer to me than the lefties are?"
On October 18, 2019, Hillary Clinton suggested Russians were "grooming" Tulsi Gabbard to be a third-party candidate who would help Trump win reelection through the spoiler effect (though Clinton claimed she was referring to Republicans, not Russians, she called Gabbard "the favorite of the Russians"). Williamson defended Gabbard, saying, "The Democratic establishment has got to stop smearing women it finds inconvenient! The character assassination of women who don’t toe the party line will backfire."
On January 2, 2020, after missing several fundraising targets, Williamson announced that she would have to continue her run without campaign staff. On January 10, Williamson announced the end of her campaign and pledged to support the Democratic nominee.
Many pundits treated Williamson's brief campaign as comic relief, such as Peter Wehner of The New York Times calling her "an amusing presence," or Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post writing, "We are all dreams in the mind of Marianne Williamson. If she stops believing in us even for a second, we will all vanish." However, some came to acknowledge that her message was ultimately persuasive and influential. After the July 30, 2019 Democratic debate, New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie wrote, "It feels insane to say this, but Williamson out-debated virtually everyone else on the stage. She gave a compelling answer on reparations and returned again and again to the most important issue for Democratic voters, beating Trump." The following year, after Joe Biden accepted the Democratic nomination, Tom Scocca wrote an essay in Slate titled, "Marianne Williamson Won the Democratic Primary." Scocca compared Williamson's challenge to Trump ("I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.") with Biden's acceptance speech ("For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark."), and concluded that "Marianne Williamson’s message is what the Democrats are carrying into November."
Williamson said that her lack of elective office experience did not disqualify her from being president. She implied that not having held office before was, in part, what made her uniquely qualified. She stated that the belief that only experienced politicians can lead the U.S. was "preposterous", arguing that experienced politicians led the U.S. into unfounded wars, extreme income inequality and environmental harm. She called for her expertise in empathy, differentiated thinking, and political vision to be valued on par with elected experience and cited President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 statement that "The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That's the least of it... It is preeminently a place of moral leadership":
Throughout her campaign, Williamson talks more about ideas than plans. Some people might see that as an inability to lead, but when inciting the darkest parts of humanity helped win the previous election, trying to appeal to the light side doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. [...] She's doing her best to move the conversation to one of peace and love instead of anger and division. What is so laughable about that? [...] Campaign promises – plans for Medicare, plans for how to curb climate change – are great. But promises without a fundamental shift in thinking will simply become empty promises. Williamson is trying to teach us that our mind-set needs a new baseline, one of true empathy, so that it becomes impossible to deny people basic health care, so that Americans would never for one second think that separating breastfeeding mothers from their infants at the border is in any way acceptable.— Kerry Pieri, Harper's Bazaar
Williamson believed that the presidency of Donald Trump inspired increased visibility and political participation of White nationalists and was therefore unique and required "more" than past political experience to be defeated:
When we look at the role that emotion plays in White Nationalism... the role of emotion in those movements is undeniable. Hate is powerful and hate is contagious. And it is not enough to meet [it] simply with an intellectual analysis or rational argument. The only way you can defeat them is by overriding them through an equal force is exerted when people are awakened to those positive feelings and positive emotions.
Williamson also stressed that she met all the requirements to be president as laid out by the U.S. Constitution, and implied that those who dismissed candidates without elective office experience were elitists impeding the country's democratic process and values. She appealed for a process that excluded media favoritism in favor of bringing forth candidates to voters, allowing those candidates to "do their best," and then "allowing voters to decide for themselves through their own intelligent analysis."
If the Founders wanted to say 'That person [a Presidential candidate] needs to be a governor or a senator, or a congressman or a lawyer,' then they would have. But they didn't, because they were leaving it to every generation to determine for itself the skillset that that generation feels is most necessary in order to address the challenges of their time. [...] I think we need more than someone who's just qualified because they understand how Washington works. We need someone today who understands how "we" work. And I think my 35-year career gives me those qualifications.
Williamson said she developed her liberal views from her father, Sam, who she called "an armchair revolutionary." When Williamson was 13, she told her father that a teacher told her that the U.S. had to fight the Vietnam War in Vietnam to prevent it from coming to the U.S. In response, her father took her entire family to Vietnam "to make sure the military-industrial complex didn't eat her brain and convince her that war was O.K." Williamson said she was also affected by a trip she took with her family to Soviet-controlled Hungary as a child, and witnessing her father surreptitiously slip their tour guide his business card and tell him: "You get out of here. I'll take care of you the rest of the way."
Williamson said she was inspired by her father to "grow up and change the world...be the strong one and hold other people who are burdened with serious problems."
Williamson describes herself as a "pretty straight-line progressive Democrat" who has "social revolution" at the center of her being, and describes her policies as a "renovation" of a "sociopathic economic system" focused on "short-term profit maximization". She says her interest lies in the creation of an "enlightened society".
Williamson supports intervening early with at-risk youth through resources, education, and counseling. She also supports expanding restorative justice programs, introducing trauma education in the juvenile justice system, expanding life-skills programs in prisons, and advancing hunger prevention, which she says is the "root cause of violence."
Williamson supports the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act along with initiatives to guarantee voting rights and accessible polling to those with disabilities. She has pledged to appoint disabled citizens to her cabinet. She also supports the Disability Integration Act requiring healthcare insurers to cover home healthcare. She pledged to try to get the Act passed in her first 100 days in office.
Williamson supports transition programs that move institutionalized people with disabilities to supported independent living. She also supports reforming Social Security Insurance to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from entitlement programs if they earn more than $1,220 a month. In addition, she supports including disability policy, including disabled human rights, in U.S. trade deals.
Williamson supports sex education in the disabled community, including sexual abuse reporting initiatives. She also supports sensitivity training for police in regard to interacting with those with disabilities and mental illnesses.
Williamson supports free tuition at public colleges, community colleges and trade schools. She also supports a "radical" reduction in college loan debt and total forgiveness of college loan debt "in some cases." She has expressed her support for treating student loans "like other debt", such that debtors could refinance at lower interest rates and those who declare bankruptcy could have their debt forgiven.
Williamson supports instituting a system like the EU's "Right to be forgotten" in the United States. She also supports copyrighting mugshots to allow individuals have a true "restoration of rights", in an era where one's online presence is keystrokes away.
Williamson supports portable retirement plans, the development of initiatives to protect homeowners from predatory lending, an increase in access to home loan modifications, SNAP coverage for low-income families, and initiatives to understand and decrease homelessness among veterans.
Williamson also supports the creation of a Department of Children and Youth—a new cabinet-level agency to create programs to reduce infant mortality, illness, food insecurity, homelessness, and undereducation.
Williamson supports making middle-class tax cuts permanent and repealing the corporate tax cuts in the 2017 Tax Bill. She also supports the restoration and "modernization" of the Glass-Steagall Act, with the intent of separating commercial banks from investment banks in order to prevent banks from making risky investments. Williamson supports preventing corporations from engaging in tax avoidance, including tax avoidance for carried interest and ETF income. She also supports enforcement of antitrust laws and the implementation of a federal fee for financial transactions such as buying stocks or exchanging currency. Williamson also supports independent regulation of the pharmaceutical industry to prevent what she has called "predatory practices":
Williamson supports gun control, and has described the issue as one personal to her. On November 4, 2018, she gave a passionate keynote address to several hundred Muslim and Jewish women at the Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom conference in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, eight days after 11 Jews were murdered at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue:
I am speaking to you as a Jewish woman. Where fear has been turned into a political force in America, we must turn love into a political force. With the history of Muslims and the history of Jews and of blacks and of immigrants it is time, it is time for something fierce to rise up out of us. To say, 'You did it to my grandparents and you are not going to do it to my kids!'
Williamson supports eliminating the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating the current limits on the Centers for Disease Control's ability to track and record gun ownership numbers. She also supports mandatory universal background checks and waiting periods for all gun dealers—including at gun shows and sporting retailers—child safety locks on all guns, and restrictions on the ability of the mentally ill to buy guns.
Williamson supports universal health care under a "Medicare for All type of plan." She has also stated that she supports extending health coverage –– including coverage for home care –– to currently uninsured Americans.
Williamson has expressed that she would like to develop a "health care" system opposed to what she says is a "disease management" system that the U.S. currently has. Inclusive of that, Williamson has expressed support for reimbursement of medical professionals for wellness and preventive care, longer doctor visits, nutrition and lifestyle education and limiting the marketing of hyper-processed and sugary foods. She has also expressed support for ending subsidies to the agricultural production of "unhealthy" food in favor of "healthy" food production.
Williamson supports expanding the role of the EPA and FDA to regulate toxin inclusion in the environment and food supplies, to make recommendations of how to lower societal stress, and to help develop healthy habits in local communities. She also supports limiting the profit motive in medicine, as much as possible, inclusive of seeking non-pharmacological ways to treat mental health issues (where possible), and treating mental health as important as physical health in order to normalize treatment.
Williamson supports a full path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with no "serious" criminal background. She also supports reducing the cost of naturalization and increasing resources to help immigrants navigate the process with more ease.
Whereas Williamson does not support open borders, she supports a more humane approach to border policy. In June 2019, Williamson ripped then-President Donald Trump on his immigration policies after reports of children being separated from their families and being put in a detainment center, calling them "state-sponsored crimes". After Trump's announcement that ICE would begin mass-deportations, she said it is "no different" than what Jewish people faced in Nazi Germany.
Williamson supports investing in "smart" border security, which she states, calls for better monitoring of airplanes, ships, trucks crossing the border, and submarines. She also supports overturning the three-year and ten-year re-entry bars.
Williamson also supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and expanding protections and naturalization to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, regardless of their current age.
Williamson supports The Equality Act. She also supports equality in health care, housing, employment, and services. She has also expressed support in protecting the LGBTQ community from marginalization due to Census questionnaire.
Williamson supports an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. She also supports increasing the minimum wage for localities based on an amount determined to be a living wage for a given geographical area, and then adjusting that wage for inflation as needed.
Williamson supports "redesigning" the partnership between the Defense Department and the State Department that would elevate the need for peace, putting it on equal footing with the need for military preparedness. Williamson supports the creation of a United States Department of Peace to aid in her proposed redesign, which also includes a plan to establish a Peace Academy modeled after military academies.
Williamson supports decreasing the military budget and redirecting those funds toward peacebuilding and peace maintenance efforts e.g. mediation, diplomacy, humanitarian aid, post-conflict transitional justice, and "on-the-ground programs." She also supports maintaining a budget that would not impede military preparedness, while investing in a "sustainable society" inclusive of the development of clean energy and green manufacturing, retrofitting buildings and bridges, economically empowering women, and educating children.
Williamson supports military engagement when a NATO ally is threatened, when the United States is under threat of attack, or "when the humanitarian order of the world is at risk."
Williamson supports the creation of a program of which every citizen, between 18 and 26, can perform one year of voluntary National Service –– helping schools, hospitals, infrastructure, sustainability, regenerative agricultural projects, the military, the Peace Corps –– that can be remunerated for housing, "basic costs," or financial support for higher education.
Native American reconciliation
Williamson supports returning dominant control of the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation, halting construction of the Keystone Pipeline, recognizing tribal sovereignty over their territory. She also supports increasing funding to Native lands’ justice systems, protecting tribal sovereignty and governance, and protecting Native religious freedom.
Williamson has expressed support for "rethinking treaties" and continuing annual tribal nations' summits in Washington D.C.
Black American reparations
Williamson supports the distribution of $200-$500 billion in reparations for slavery, spread across 20 years for "economic and education projects," to be disbursed based on the recommendation of a selected group of black leaders. In taking this position, Williamson became the only candidate to ever submit a detailed plan for reparations for black Americans.
Williamson, who first expressed her support of reparations in her 1993 book, Illuminata –– advocating that the U.S. will not reconcile its racial and economic divide without them has said of the policy proposal –– states that her policy on reparations is not part of "a black agenda,"
Where I'm coming from is not that I have a 'Black agenda.' I have an American agenda". [...] The reason I want reparations, as opposed to simple race-based policies, [is because] race-based policies leave open the question whose fault it is that this gap even exists. And race-based policies provide justice, but it doesn't provide the power that capital provides, and that is really what we're talking about here. We're talking about an economic gap that existed in 1865, that was actually increased with another 100 years. So after 200 years of slavery, you had another 100 years of institutionalized violence against black people in America. My point –– reparations carry more than the power of purely financial restitution. They carry moral force. We need to deal with these things on a deeper, more transformative level. This should not be considered "cuckoo." This should not be considered "wacky."
Women's rights to abortion
International and foreign issues
Williamson deems climate change to be "the greatest moral challenge of our generation." She claimed support for the Green New Deal, immediate re-entry into the Paris Climate Accords, and has stated that she would be willing to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it included greater protections for workers and the environment.
Williamson also support the U.S. directing subsidies from fossil fuels, including coal, and re-investing them in the development of renewable energy, both in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in developing countries.
Williamson has called for the establishment of a Department of Peace to expand global diplomacy, mediation, and educational and economic development. She supported the creation of such a department in 2005, backing efforts by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, to try to establish it.
Williamson supported safe withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible and would consider the use of a peace-keeping force, such as the United Nations, to assist with the transition.
Williamson, recognizing Africa as the continent with the fastest-growing population, supports engagement with the continent in order to thwart the growth of terrorist groups and health epidemics, which she believes threaten U.S. security, while capitalizing on opportunities in areas where corruption is being reversed, free elections are being held, and economies are growing.
Williamson has said she supports the U.S. vigorously using its position, i.e., through CFIUS, to prevent China from buying strategically important companies, which she believes will help defend U.S. economic interests and human rights, as in the cases of the Uighurs and residents of Hong Kong.
Williamson supports rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). She said that "US propaganda ... falsely claims the deal lets Iran get nuclear weapons within 10 years." Williamson also backs increased diplomacy, a change of relations to address human rights in Iran, sanctions relief and the purchasing of Air Bus airplanes to support travel, entrepreneurship and normalization. According to Williamson, "Iran is a potential ally against Sunni extremism with many common interests to build upon". Williamson criticized the Trump administration for elevating tensions with Iran.
Williamson supports a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict which secures both the legitimate security of Israel and the human rights, dignity and economic opportunities of the Palestinian people. She expressed support for using the power of the Presidency to exert pressure on Israel to restart talks on this solution.
I don't think the ultimate answer will be about settlements or checkpoints. The work of the genuine peace-builders must be on the level of the heart. Until the U.S. returns to where it can be considered an honest broker by the Palestinians, as well as Israelis, it won't be able to play a constructive role.
Williamson supports rescinding President Trump's recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel. She has also stated her belief that settlements on the West Bank are illegal and does not support the Blockade of the Gaza Strip. However, Williamson does support the occupation of the Golan Heights "only until there is a stable government in Syria with whom one can negotiate".
Williamson supports principled diplomacy, including citizen diplomacy and family reunification. She has said she would declare a formal end to the Korean War, replace the Armistice Agreement with a peace regime and back South Korean efforts to improve inter-Korean relations through confidence-building and tension reduction measures. Williamson also supports the creation of inter-Korean economic, cultural and civic projects, humanitarian relief efforts, and the inclusion of women, youth, and civil society in negotiations.
Williamson has said she would support US-DPRK trust-building programs and continuing POW/MIA remains repatriation. She also said she would be open to supporting partial sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling some of North Korea's nuclear weapons program in order to encourage de-escalation and improved relations. Williamson also said she would seek to negotiate a peace agreement.
Williamson supports extensive investigation into Russian interference of U.S., Ukrainian and European elections. She compared Russia's meddling in the 2016 American presidential election to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. She also supports increased cyber-security for U.S. elections.
Williamson supports ending all U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. She has said, "The blood of starving children in Yemen is on the hands of every US official who chooses a $350B arms sale to Saudi Arabia over the value of their lives." She supports halting all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Williamson expressed that she would support an independent criminal investigation into the killing of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, including any role that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have played in his death.
Williamson supports creating conditions for effective dialogue between factions representing both Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó that seek a peaceful transition. She has also expressed support for existing efforts to promote dialogue, in particular those being led by the Norwegian government. Williamson said she believes the best policy in Venezuela is to support efforts that allow its citizens to decide their political future, even if the U.S. does not agree with the outcome.
Williamson is indifferent about religion, having called it a map in which "the route isn't important. It's the destination that matters." She has said that "organized dogmatic religion" has been harmful, creating "absurd" divisions among people.
Williamson has expressed a deep belief in forgiveness based on the notion that nothing is real, or exists, but love: "If a person behaves unlovingly, then that means that, regardless if their negativity—anger or whatever—their behavior was derived from fear and doesn’t actually exist. They’re hallucinating. You forgive them, then, because there’s nothing to forgive."
Williamson believes a peaceful life is attainable by thinking with God, while thinking without God creates pain. She has said, "Asking God for help doesn’t seem very comforting if we think of Him as something outside of ourselves, or capricious, or judgmental. But God is love and He dwells within us. We were created in His image, or mind, which means that we are extensions of His love, or Sons of God."
Williamson's beliefs on forgiveness and God influence her belief that sin is impossible: "A sin would mean we did something so bad that God is angry with us. But since we cannot do anything that changes our essential nature, God has nothing to be angry at. Only love is real. Nothing else exists. The Son of God cannot sin."
Health and vaccinations
A "both-and" approach (both prayer and medicine) to physical and mental health has been attributed to Williamson. This approach—the efficacy of prayer—accepts medical science as part of God's power to heal. For example, surgery may be seen as God answering prayers to heal. This logic invokes what Johns Hopkins Medicine has called the "strong link between 'positivity' and health", in which "positive attitude improves outcomes and life satisfaction across a spectrum of conditions."
Williamson, who believes that "the spirit is impervious to illness," confirmed this belief when she said that "people who are prayed for get out of the emergency room faster" and "people who have been diagnosed with a life-challenging illness, who attend spiritual support groups, live, on average, twice as long after diagnosis." She maintains that prayer is complementary to medicine, not a substitute for it.
Williamson has stated her support for the necessity and value of vaccinations and antidepressants, but has been criticized for her skepticism about the pharmaceutical industry's influence in setting guidelines for how they are administered, citing her belief that their profit motive could result in harm to patients. She has also been scrutinized for criticizing overprescription of antidepressants, questioning whether antidepressants play a role in suicide, saying that the prescriptive definition between sadness and clinical depression is "artificial," and having called the process by which clinical depression is diagnosed "a scam."
During Williamson's presidential campaign, several excerpts of her past comments have conflated her skepticism of the pharmaceutical industry's trustworthiness with an embrace of anti-vaccination dogma. As a result, she has been accused of being "anti-medicine" and "anti-science." She denies such accusations, saying they "could not be further from the truth." But critics points to Williamson's January 2012 interview on her radio show, "Living Miraculously," with Gwen Olsen, a 15-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry who implied that she personally believed antidepressants could be dangerous and linked to autism. Critics also cite a podcast interview with Russell Brand in which Williamson, while speaking about vaccine exemptions, "glibly" described the process by which vaccines are mandated as "Orwellian" and likened the debate about vaccination mandates to the abortion debate. She later apologized, saying she "misspoke," and that the comments erroneously made her "sound as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines."
Williamson has expressed frustration that her skepticism of the pharmaceutical industry has been equated with skepticism of the science of vaccines. She has said, "Skeptical about vaccinations I have not expressed. Skeptical about Big Pharma in general I have expressed. And there is a big difference." She has also expressed frustration that this distinction is lost in public discourse:
The implication was that if you have any skepticism whatsoever, you are 'anti-science' [and a 'kook']. And I think there's a difference between having skepticism about science and having skepticism about the pharmaceutical industry. So, I think that –– even though my child was vaccinated –– I think that there is a public health issue that overrides individual liberty here even though I don't want the government, as a rule, telling me what I can do, and what I can't do, with my body for medical purposes. At the same time I think that the government earned our distrust. [...] This is the problem when institutions lose their moral authority [...], even when they say something that we should listen to, people have a skepticism –– and that's the real problem. [...] The answer is not to tell us we're 'kooks,' but get their act together so that they are more trustworthy again.
In October 1991, Williamson officiated at the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky. She said that derisive publicity of the wedding harmed her credibility, as she was labeled "Guru to the Glitterati."
Williamson is often called terms like "New Age guru." The label has been associated with her for years, but she has long rejected such terms, calling them "outrageous". Religious organizations have also said that she is not "New Age" but teaches an "evolved Christianity—blending elements of Eastern mysticism into Christian language—using terms 'tied to old New Age'". She has said she finds it "creepy" to be called a "spiritual leader", believes it insults her audience's intelligence, and prefers to be called an author.
Williamson has often commented on how she is portrayed in the media, and believes that her image as a "seeker" has brought ridicule in the press. During her 2014 Congressional run, Williamson said, "I’m sure they’re going to say I’m a New Age nutcase, dragon lady, lightweight thinker." She has said of her image, "There has been a tendency to create a caricature, and it’s very difficult to battle a caricature." According to The New York Times Magazine, the depiction of her by "many in the press" has been "snide".
Williamson has said she believes she is ridiculed because of her spirituality, noting her belief that the Democratic Party is dismissive of those who express thoughts on morality or spirituality, deeming them to be "less sophisticated, less intelligent, less intellectual."
During Williamson's presidential campaign, press outlets have called her "wacko," a "quack," "scary," "a joke," "kooky," "hokey," "dangerous," "bananas," "bonkers," "Secretary of Crystals," and "wackadoodle." She made headlines when she criticized Vogue Magazine for its "insidious influence" when it did not include her in an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot of the 2020 female presidential candidates. Vogue responded that it only wanted "to highlight the five female lawmakers who bring a collective 40 years of political experience to this race." Williamson subsequently posted a fan-made picture of the Vogue photo with herself edited in.
I am a serious woman, and I have had a serious career. Why won't people take me seriously?
Although Williamson is often ridiculed, she has also been lauded for her "authentic voice," "truth," accuracy on the issues, and "decency." According to Elle Magazine, "She knows her shit." But many press pieces that praise her style or views also simultaneously dismiss her as the person giving them.
Williamson's looks have often been referenced in press about her. Martin Gardner of Skeptical Inquirer called her a "sexy little guru" in 1992. Simon Sebag Montefiore of Psychology Today called her a "highly charged packet of sexuality." Zack Munson of the Washington Examiner said Williamson "is tall, brunette, beautiful, and quite squarely put together." Mark Leibovich of the New York Times wrote that Williamson "looks amazing for 61, in that well-moisturized-L.A.-famous-person kind of way." Katherine Miller of Buzzfeed called Williamson "striking at 66."
After a colleague reportedly called her a "bitch" for demanding to pray before a 1989 New York City charity event, she wryly replied, "If I'm a bitch, I'm a bitch for God." The term has been associated with her ever since.
Williamson was briefly married in 1979 to a Houston businessman. She said the marriage lasted "for a minute and a half."
In 2013, Williamson reported having assets estimated to be valued between $1 million and $5 million (not including personal residences).
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