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Samantha Lee/Business Insider
- Marianne Williamson, a wildly successful author and self-help guru, is running for the Democratic nomination for president.
- She is known for several New York Times bestselling books on spirituality and her work leading a nonprofit food bank that has served 11.5 million meals.
- She’s a confidante of Oprah Winfrey’s and has made regular guest appearances on her show to discuss matters of spirituality and morality.
- Williamson’s campaign and her broader message to the American public is unorthodox and filled with spiritual themes — but according to her, that is precisely what the US needs.
Working in government for more than thirty years certainly seems like enough time to prepare for the presidency. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont started his political career as a mayor in 1981, while Republican Sen. John McCain entered the political scene in 1982 as a congressman from Arizona.
For the 2020 US presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, those years were spent transforming "lives from the inside out," she said to INSIDER.
Williamson is known for several New York Times bestselling books on spirituality — with titles including "Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens" and "Tears to Triumph." She also founded a nonprofit food bank, Project Angel Food, which has served approximately 11.5 million meals.
Williamson’s message of spiritual awakening and community service has resonated with millions of people not only through her books but also in numerous televised appearances. She is even considered to be Oprah Winfrey’s confidante after making regular guest appearances on her show to discuss matters of spirituality and morality.
But her message transformed into political aspirations when she announced she was running for president during a Los Angeles rally in late January. Drawing a reported crowd of thousands, Williamson made her plea to what she described as "a moral and spiritual awakening" for the country.
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Williamson’s platform mirrors her message of human values and the healing of the spirit — a process she believes can be translated into politics and, based on her background, makes her a qualified president.
"All that a nation is, is a group of individuals. So the same psychological and emotional and spiritual principles that prevail within the life of an individual prevails within the life of a nation," Williamson said to INSIDER. "So America now has to heal from the inside out."
"You have to look to your values," she said. "You have to be aligned in your thinking with the conscience, ethics, relationships with the world around you in order to live a life that ultimately works."
"Our government now acts more like a hand-maiden to a large matrix of multinational corporate forces than a servant to the people," Williamson added. "That is a moral malfunction. And a moral function has led to political corruption, and that political corruption has led to all manners of human devastation."
Williamson cites several of President Donald Trump’s policies as an example of political malfeasance, including gutting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and spreading "the so-called crisis at the border." But she reiterated that broadly rolling back Trump’s policies or campaigning with an anti-Trump narrative "is so naïve."
"The problem is so much bigger than President Trump — there are so many lined up behind him," Williamson said. "All that will happen is that they’ll be back in 2022 and be they’ll be back in 2024."
Associated Press/Evan Vucci
"Defeating Donald Trump is treating the symptom, it’s not treating the cause," Williamson added. "We have to inspire a new era of civic engagement, a new era of citizen activism. And because I’ve had a career … inspiring action inside people, that’s why I feel I offer some unique qualifications for the work that needs to be done."
Williamson is aware of the public’s focus on her metaphysical metaphors in books and speeches, but she shrugged off what some people suggest are idealistic, airy statements. In fact, she welcomed being characterized as a "healer" and spiritual guru.
"If somebody wants to call me ‘healer-in-chief’ that’s fine," Williamson said. "That is in fact what America needs. The fact that so many people in America have lived for decades with chronic economic despair, and tension, and anxiety, it has already caused great instability in the system. And it will continue to cause even greater instability within the system until we address this."
Williamson’s résumé may not include years of government service, but her campaign will not be the first time she enters the political foray. She unsuccessfully ran for California’s 33rd Congressional District, which is held by Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, as an independent candidate in 2014.
Despite spending $2 million for her congressional campaign and receiving endorsements from Hollywood celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry, Williamson won 13% of the vote compared with Lieu’s $1.05 million and 18.8%.
Hollywood celebrities have been noticeably quieter this time around. While other 2020 candidates have received endorsements and are appearing at fundraisers, Williamson’s campaign appears to lack the backing from notable figures in the industry — including Winfrey. (Williamson said she discussed her candidacy with the media magnate but did not provide further comment.)
With the Democratic field of candidates growing by the week, Williamson faces a difficult challenge generating media coverage and remaining competitive in the polls.
In addition to other nontraditional candidates, such as the entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Williamson is competing with veteran lawmakers, including Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii for the Democratic nomination.
Cable news networks and other national news outlets have largely ignored her campaign, sometimes not even including her on the list of candidates. This has not gone unnoticed by Williamson.
But Williamson said she bears no ill will against her Democratic opponents, and her doctrine of inclusion avoids the uncomfortable tension of the 2016 Democratic primary election between Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Williamson said she admired her fellow candidates, including Sanders, who she endorsed in the 2016 presidential election. (She did, however, publish a scathing letter in 2014 advising Clinton not to run for president.)
Her cordial feelings toward the other candidates is on display as she campaigns in the battleground states, including South Carolina and Iowa:
"I’m not running against anyone. I’m running with everyone," Williamson said. "I think it’s very healthy for our democracy and very healthy for the Democratic Party. This is an all-hands-on-deck type of moment in America. And I think anyone who has good ideas should be putting them out there."
Williamson said she extends that same sentiment to the freshman class of lawmakers, most notably Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
"I think they’re great," Williamson said, adding that she disagreed with the notion that their political views are radical. Williamson said she supports many of the progressive policies advocated by the new lawmakers — including the controversial Green New Deal, a nonbinding, radically progressive resolution of environmental and social legislation championed by Ocasio-Cortez.
"We’re living in a time where the country has taken such a sharp turn to the right that what used to be considered the middle is deemed the radical left," Williamson said. "I think they’re standing for democracy, they’re standing for justice, and they’re standing for universal human values."
"To say that you want to disrupt the status quo today should not be considered radical. It should be considered the course correction to a radical deviation from our highest principles," she added.
To that effect, Williamson’s proposed policies mirror many other Democrats and independents. She supports "Medicare for All," completely transitioning the US to clean energy by 2045, and a ban on assault-style weapons. Her bolder initiatives include $100 billion in reparations for slavery (with an annual distribution of $10 billion toward economic and educational sectors) and a one-year national service requirement for US citizens between the ages of 18 and 26.
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Some Democratic strategists believe Williamson’s non-traditional experience in politics and progressive agenda may resonate with voters in the battleground states.
"[Williamson] has a different perspective than any of the other candidates," Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist, told INSIDER. "She believes that her approach is better than the typical politician."
"She is an author and has written books that have been very popular — and so she’s been able to connect with people in different ways than through elected politics," Link added. "What her argument is, is that we shouldn’t run another politician against Trump — we should try something different."
Williamson faces an uphill battle as more candidates enter the race. Fundraiser donations, arguably one of the most important metrics of a campaign’s viability, must continue to fill the campaign’s coffers as she nears the Democratic primaries.
"She needs to continue to raise her profile," Link said. "She’s well-known amongst her readers of her book … she’s got a pretty solid base of book buyers and if they become contributors to her campaign, that should sustain her for a while."
Eric Charbonneau/Invision for YWCA/AP Images
Other strategists threw cold water on Williamson’s campaign and described it as "purely a vanity campaign."
"One of the terrible side effects of the Trump presidency is that now almost anybody thinks they can be president," Nathan Ballard, who was a spokesman for former Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential campaign, said to INSIDER. "Williamson is one of these delusional characters."
"She couldn’t even win a congressional seat in Malibu, where her politics are not that far out of the mainstream," Ballard added, referring to Williamson’s failed bid for California’s 33rd Congressional District. "She certainly doesn’t have a prayer in Iowa or New Hampshire."
With about 2.6 million Twitter followers and nearly 740,000 Facebook followers, Williamson has already drawn a large social-media presence. But while Williamson’s audience on social media appears to be larger than her fellow candidates’, the total engagement falls short in comparison. Sen. Harris’ campaign-affiliated Twitter account may be slightly behind Williamson’s with 2.5 million followers, but her tweets regularly attract thousands of "likes" and retweets.
Still, Williamson is determined not to be another footnote in the long list of Democratic candidates and believes that her message will appeal to voters beyond the primaries.
"I believe that there are many, many people in America who join with me in that place, and believe that when we enter that level of conversation, a great nobility and intelligence emerges that bypasses the mean-spiritedness, selfishness, our vulnerability to propaganda, and will enable us to repair this country," she said.
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