If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That could be Marianne Williamson’s motto. She ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 but barely made a dent in the crowded field. She withdrew from the race on January 10, 2020, before any of the official nominating events had taken place. But this past Saturday, the best-selling New Age self-help guru, who gained fame as Oprah’s spiritual adviser, jumped into the 2024 presidential race. Williamson has never held political office, served in the military, or been a cabinet officer. So why is she challenging a sitting Democratic president for the party’s nomination? She says that it’s because “the status quo … will not disrupt itself," and that “a president who tells it like it is would do a lot of good.”
Date of Birth: July 8, 1952
Place of Birth: Houston, Texas
Political Party: Democratic Party
Marital Status: Divorced
Children: India (32)
Alma Mater: Pomona College (dropped out after 2 years)
Career: Motivational speaker and author (1983-present)
Campaign Website: https://marianne2024.com
Twitter Handle: @marwilliamson
Williamson formally announced her candidacy before a crowd of some six hundred people who gathered at Union Station, the majestic, marble-columned train terminal in Washington, DC. She did not mention President Joe Biden by name in her remarks. However, her choice of venue was widely seen as a jab at the incumbent president. As a longtime Amtrak rider, Biden regularly passed through Union Station on his way to the Senate, and last November he delivered a speech at the station calling on Americans to stand up for democracy.
Williamson delivered her announcement speech without notes or a teleprompter while members of the crowd waved signs saying either “A New Beginning” or “Disrupt the System.” The theme of her speech was that it is time to disrupt “a sociopathic economic system that in policy after policy after policy makes sure that those who already have will probably get more and those who do not have will have a hard time even surviving.” What that means is ending the era of government “of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.”
Whether or not that message gives Williamson traction, she can say she is the first presidential candidate to use the word “gnarly” in their announcement speech.
Williamson was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Her father was an immigration lawyer and her mother a stay-at-home mom. Politically her parents were liberals, which, according to Williamson, made her “deeply aware of issues of social justice.”
On her 2020 campaign website, Williamson said of her coming-of-age in the sixties and seventies: “From the cultural and spiritual revolution of that time, to the anti-war protests and political activism that marked the era, I was every bit a child of my generation.” She attended Pomona College in Claremont, California for two years before dropping out. She held a series of odd jobs during her twenties, including a cocktail waitress, office temp, and author’s assistant.
Williamson says the book A Course in Miracles sparked her interest in religion and spirituality. In 1983, she began giving non-denominational, spiritual lectures based on it. She also began working to halt the AIDS epidemic, creating nonprofits in Los Angeles and New York to provide non-medical support to people living with life-disrupting illnesses. She also founded Project Angel Food, which serves food to homebound people with AIDS in Los Angeles.
Williamson published her first book, A Return to Love in 1992. It became a bestseller after it was featured on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” Williamson has published fourteen more books since then and gained a devoted following that includes several Hollywood celebrities.
In 2004, Williamson co-founded The Peace Alliance, which seeks to “take the work of peacebuilding and make it a national and international priority through policy and legislation, as well as embodied in our everyday lives.” She ran for Congress in 2014 as an independent in California’s 33rd congressional district. She finished fourth in the blanket primary.
William is running on a platform of anti-corporate populism. She said in her announcement speech that “corporate tyranny will end” under her presidency and that the federal “government is no more now than a system of legalized bribery.” She hit a similar theme back in 2020. Then, she argued that the source of America’s ills was the “authoritarian corporatism by which the major resources of this country have been systematically placed in the hands of a few people.” Our economy has, in her view, become “a tyrannous economic order” in which “market forces have become our false God.”
Williamson likes to say that “the issues aren’t always the issue.” In practice, this means we should look not just at the problems we are trying to solve but at the broader societal causes that produce them. So in the case of health care, she not only wants universal healthcare coverage but promises to promote regenerative agriculture, limit pesticides and the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, improve Americans’ diets, and encourage the creation of centers that promote stress-reducing activities like yoga.
Williamson’s Foreign Policy Views
Williamson made her career as a motivational speaker and spiritual advisor, not parsing national security strategies or defense budget. She nonetheless has strong views on U.S. foreign and defense policy. To summarize them in a nutshell, she thinks the United States has it exactly backward when it comes to foreign policy. As she put it in a tweet back in 2019: “Our national security policies should be based more on efforts to wage peace than on efforts to prepare for war. Peace is not the absence of war; war is the absence of peace.”
In keeping with that view, Williamson has, since the creation of the Peace Alliance back in 2004, championed the idea of creating a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace and an associated Peace Academy. The proposed department would have domestic and international responsibilities. On the domestic side, it would promote efforts like violence prevention. On the international side, it would work to end conflict. The Peace Academy, like the military academies, would be a four-year college, though in its case it would focus on "peace education." And like graduates of the military academies, its graduates would be required to serve for five years in public service.
Williamson mentioned foreign policy only in passing in her announcement speech. That came when she called for undertaking an “emergency level, just transition from a war economy to a peace economy.” She didn’t mention China, or Russia, or Iran, or North Korea, or trade. Her campaign website is equally silent on matters beyond America’s shores. The issues page lists sixteen priority topics. None of them deals with foreign policy.
More on Williamson
Williamson has written fifteen books. Her most recent is A Politics of Love: Handbook for a New American Revolution. It discusses how “we each can become a miracle worker by accepting God and by the expression of love in our daily lives.”
Last year, the New York Times Magazine asked whether Williamson was “a politico or apolitical?” She relayed that when it comes to the 2024 race, “What matters most is not just the who but the what. The ‘what’ is that we have someone, both as a candidate and as a president, who stands for a fundamental course correction.”
Vox compiled a biography of Williamson after she declared her candidacy for the presidency back in 2019, writing that she is “brassy, straight-talking [and] highly charismatic.”
Amanda Fortini profiled Williamson in Elle when she ran for Congress in 2014, saying she understood the “the dazzling charisma that's made Williamson famous.”
Mother Jones profiled Williamson back in 1999 when she first emerged as a New Age guru. The title of the piece telegraphed the author’s conclusion: “Faith: Marianne Williamson Is Full of It.”
Other posts in this series:
Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.