Marianne Williamson: “We Need to Create a Phenomenon”

In the Democratic race to be the party’s presidential nominee, one long shot candidate who has made a mark is Marianne Williamson. One of Oprah’s favorite motivational speakers and a best-selling author, Williamson has set herself apart from other candidates with her spiritual take on politics. And although she didn’t reach the debate stage this month, she’s not dropping out of the race just yet.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Climate is top of the agenda for many Democrats as they navigate their way through the primaries. One long shot candidate who is definitely made a mark is Marianne Williamson. One of Oprah’s favorite motivational speakers and best-selling self-help author, she set herself apart from other candidates with her spiritual take on politics. And though, she didn’t reach the second debate stage, she’s not dropping out of the race just yet. And she told our Michel Martin why she thinks the American government has been hijacked.


MICHEL MARTIN: Can you walk me through as briefly as you can, because I know that for a lot of people, this is a long process.


MARTIN: I mean, sometimes it’s a process with years in making —


MARTIN: — of deciding to run for president as opposed to supporting someone —


MARTIN: — that you happen to like. Walk me through the process of deciding that you had to run for president.

WILLIAMSON: So when I started my career, the issues of personal trauma, personal transformation were not only where I felt my skill set best fit, where I could be a greater service, but also the idea of bad public policy impacting people’s lives. It was always there but it wasn’t there the way it is today. It’s only been in the last 20 years that I have seen in work like mine too much trauma that people are going through that they shouldn’t have to go through in the richest country in the world. They shouldn’t have to go through, given how hard they work. They shouldn’t have to go through given how much education they’ve had, and how much they have achieved. So I’ve seen things that remind of the story, I heard a story once and I don’t know if it has a title but I think of it as the ship from the good Samaritan to the conscious Samaritan. The good Samaritan is walking down the road and sees a beggar and gives elms to the beggar. And then walks further down the road and see and gives elms to another beggar. And then walks down the road and sees another beggar and gives elms. And walks down the road another beggar and gives some elms. At a certain point, the good Samaritan says to him or herself, why are there so many beggars? And that has been gnawing at me for a long time. Now I have been a nonprofit activist working on peace issues, poverty issues, particularly issues around AIDS, people dying of life-challenging illnesses, all of that. But it has become obvious in over the last few years no amount of private charity can compensate for basic lack of social justice.

MARTIN: I want to ask you about you, like why did you decide that this was your task right now? Because there are other candidates like, for example, Elizabeth Warren who has articulated a very clear message about the way in which our economy is broken and serves the few and expense of the many, but you obviously have a message that you feel was distinct, that you wanted to bring. So what is it?

WILLIAMSON: I understand. And in terms of those things that you just mentioned, I absolutely agree with Elizabeth. But I’m also talking, for instance, about war and peace. I’m talking the fact that — what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex so dominates our national security agenda, that we spend so much money on the military and on endless preparation for war as opposed to a fraction of that spent on actual waging of peace. I’m talking about actual reparations. Not just race-based policies but actual reparations, and the moral repair, and the spiritual influence that that represents. I’m talking about actually addressing the lives of millions of traumatized children in the United States, chronically traumatized children. And I’m talking about a World War II level mass mobilization facing the kind of climate emergency that we are experiencing now. But I think more importantly, for me more significant, is the election of Donald Trump changed everything. Not just for me, for millions of us. Who among us looks at the world the same way without an extra added level of how can I possibly help? And so, I think that’s changed everything for a lot of people.

MARTIN: So I take your sense of emergency informed your decision?

WILLIAMSON: Any conscious person has a sense of emergency today.

MARTIN: if I understand it, your core message to the voters is that you are a vehicle for resisting or counter acting dark forces that have been marshaled, but it’s slightly different. It’s not just the sum of your policies, would that be accurate?

AMANPOUR: What would be accurate is to say that this is the 21st century, and that the current political model is very 20th century in its outlook. It’s very much the idea of the 20th century mind that the world is a machine. To change things, you just tweak the pieces of the machine. That’s not the way we look at the world today. That’s not the 21st century mindset. The 21st century mindset is much more integrative. We realize that there are many different aspects at work, many different influences at work in any system. And in order to change a system, you need to do more than just address the things on the outside. External change matters. I’m not in any way propolizing or minimizing it, and I’m glad you mentioned that. Policy — listen I’m running for president. Policy, of course, policy matters, but if we only change policy on an external level and do not address the underlying fundamental, not only external forces but internal forces, that brought them to bear anyway, to begin with, then even if we win in ’20, which certainly we must, those same forces will be back in ’22 and the same forces will be back in ’24.

MARTIN: Is there anything right now that you would just like to clarify once and for all? Particularly for people who are not as familiar with your record as you would like them to be. I mean, there had been a couple of would it be fair to say some missteps on your part. Vaccinations, for example, in June you said — to your supporters in one of the house events in Manchester, New Hampshire. You said, to me, it’s no different than the abortion debate. The US government doesn’t tell any citizens in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child, and that you added, you were quoted as adding vaccine mandates are too draconian and Orwellian. And as you know, a lot of people have raised questions about this and they were asking, you know, what is your position? You said you’re not an anti-vaxxer but no one says that he is or she is an anti-vaxxer.

WILLIAMSON: Many people do. Absolutely many people do.

MARTIN: Well the question is, what is your view of this?

WILLIAMSON: Well, to equate the abortion issue with the vaccination issue is absolutely a mistake, because it’s a big difference. Somebody who has an abortion it affects their life or however one conceives it, the life of the unborn. But it certainly does not affect public health. So for people to say, well, wow, that’s a bad analogy. They’re correct. That was a bad analogy. But any time you have a medical intervention, there’s benefit and there’s risk, and governments have to come down on the side of public health. And when you look at the — look at what — look at smallpox, look at polio. You know, in California right now they’re going through a tremendous brouhaha having to do with exemptions and mandates. I think that it’s a conversation that is out there. And I understand the government has come to down on the side of public health

MARTIN: Well, and this is kind of a deeper issue, because this does speaks to the question of how you marry your spiritual believes with your sense of how to show leadership in the secular realm.


MARTIN: So this is why — it’s a longer conversation around the whole question of the Bahamas, around Hurricane Dorian, that Bahamas, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas may all be in our prayers now, of course. You said, millions of us seeing Dorian turn away from the land is not a whacky idea. It’s a creative use of the power of the mind. Two minutes of prayer, visualization, and meditation for those in the way of the storm. You removed that post but there are folks who thought you were saying that prayer could move the storm. And there are other people, I think, who would say why couldn’t it? So the question is —

WILLIAMSON: It’s so funny because —

MARTIN: I find it interesting because there are many people who believe that power — in the power of prayer.

WILLIAMSON: The only thing I regret is deleting the tweet. I only deleted it because I saw a criticism from Joyce Carol Oates, and she’s one of my heroes. And, of course, for any public figure to delete a tweet is ridiculous. It only brings it more. But I would like to say that several days before, I’d spent the weekend in South Carolina and Georgia. And I assure you their prayer was that that hurricane would turn around. And part of my problem is, it is an unfortunate arrogance condescension and patronizing attitude on the part of Democrats, which is really not helpful strategically to make all those people in state the like Georgia and South Carolina feel there something unintelligent about them because they were praying to their god to turn that hurricane around.

MARTIN: You had referred to the President as the reality show. And you are the reality.

WILLIAMSON: No, I didn’t say that. I said he’s a reality show, I’m showing reality.

MARTIN: You’re showing reality, thank you. Is part of your message to people that you understand the source of his appeal and, therefore, you are best positioned to counter it?

WILLIAMSON: In part, yes. In part, yes.

MARTIN: Well, could you say more about it?

WILLIAMSON: Yes, I absolutely can. And thank you for that. The President has ushered in an era of political theater. We will not be going back. He’s not just a politician. He’s a phenomenon. And I think a standard conventional establishment politician is going to have a very difficult time defeating him. We need to create a phenomenal of our own. And I’m not saying, I’m phenomenon, that’s not a human being. But it is an uprising of energy and motivation and excitement and inspiration that will only come from a level (inaudible) deep truth-telling about what’s really going on in this country. Because the issue is not just the people who voted for Trump and are excited about Trump. They’re going vote for Trump again. So don’t even have to think about that. And then there are people who hate his agenda so much they’re going to vote for the Democrat no matter what. Done. Don’t even have to think about that. But if you put these two together, that’s way too close for comfort. We have to talk to this millions of people who didn’t vote or who voted for the third party or who voted for him but are at least disturbed and I think there are a lot of those. So that, to me, is the conversation that I am having. The only way to defeat outrageous lies is with outrageous love.

MARTIN: You have a robust array of policy proposals that you’ve already put forward. The first thing I wanted to talk about is gun violence.


MARTIN: Because this is obviously something that concerns, deeply concerns, you know, millions of people across the country. The headline from the last debate was Beto O’Rourke saying hell yes, we’re going to take your ar-15s. What do you have to say about that?

WILLIAMSON: So this is a perfect example of what I’ve talked about an integrative approach. So there’s the external and there’s the internal. So on the external, I want what the Progressive Democrats want. I want universal background checks, I want to close the loopholes, both boyfriend loopholes and gun shell loopholes. I want to outlaw bump stocks. I want to outlaw the military assault-style weapons and I think we should have licensing. So I want all of that. And I wrote in an op-ed in the “Washington Post” recently and I’m talking about the fact that the United States must deal with the fact that we must have a conversation that I believe I’m uniquely qualified to hold about why we are such a violent society. And how ultimately that gun violence is a symptom. And as much as we need to deal with it on the level of policy, we need to ask ourselves, and this is not only true of our domestic policies, it’s true of our international policies as well, why are we so violent? Why is there so much brute force? Can we decide to be — can we make the choice for nonviolence? That’s what I want the United States Department of Peace. So this is exactly my point. Yes, I want to talk at that level but that level alone is not enough.

MARTIN: I picked a subject. You pick one.

WILLIAMSON: One of the things that I want is a United States Department of Children and Youth. There are millions of traumatized children in this country, chronically traumatized children. We have children who are traumatized before preschool, universal preschool. We have children who are traumatized before preschool. We have 13 million hungry children in the United States. I was in New Hampshire recently. And I was at the Northern New Hampshire and I was meeting with some business and political leaders who said that 25 percent of the children in Northern New Hampshire go to sleep hungry at night. I met a woman who is an elementary school principal in Las Vegas, Nevada who said she has elementary school children on suicide watch. We have millions of American children who go to school every day in classrooms where they don’t even have the adequate school supplies with which to teach a child to read. If a child cannot learn to read by the age of 8, the chances of high school graduation are drastically decreased and the chances of incarceration are drastically increased. There was an article in the “Chicago Paper” just recently about how it estimated that 40 percent of the girls in the public school system in Chicago have PTSD. We need trauma informed education. We need community wrap around services. We need far more mental health services, not only for the children but for families. We need nutrition, food, mindfulness in the schools. So what I want is an entire Department of Children and Youth. Because what I see is — because we have to coordinate efforts. What I find, because I travel this country a lot, and this is not just in the area of children. It’s also in the area of the environment. It’s also in the area of peacebuilding and others, as well. This country has the people who know what to do. We have the experts. We have the best practices. We have the people doing the things that need to be done. But this is what I see with children. I’ve seen it in several states. People who are doing amazing work in the nonprofit, maybe hired by the district, you know, early childhood experts, neurologists, social workers, I’ll say to them, and they’ll tell me very inspiring work that they’ve done to help. And I say of the children in your area who need this, how many do you feel you’re reaching? Over and over and over, I get the same answer. Maybe 10 to 15 percent.

MARTIN: And as president, you feel you could —

WILLIAMSON: Well, I want an entire department —

MARTIN: — (inaudible) the resources, too, and focused attention on these issues?

WILLIAMSON: Not just focused attention, we’re talking focused funding. Let’s not kid ourselves. So you’re talking about these people who underpay. We’re talking about all these nonprofit groups where people are, like, trying to have a fundraiser. Maybe they’ll raise $50,000. Maybe they’ll raise $100,000. When meanwhile our governmental policy is giving millions to people who actually are at least indirectly causing these problems.

MARTIN: So I feel I do want to ask you an international question because as you know —

WILLIAMSON: Yes, please.

MARTIN: — we’re speaking right now, we’re in a very sort of volatile place. The attacks on the Saudi oil fields this weekend. The president of the United States and national security team has identified in this country, Iran, as the main actor there. And, of course, there’s a deep stem to this. As you know President Trump opted out of the Iran nuclear deal. So the question — it’s an open-ended question, what would your response be to this particular moment?

WILLIAMSON: Well, the first thing I would do is get back into the Iran deal. I can tell you that much. When the president tweeted a couple of days ago that basically just waiting for whatever MBS says.

MARTIN: MBS being Mohammad bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

WILLIAMSON: Yes, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The — what I see is very unholy alliance between Donald Trump and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, including apparently some cozy gross stuff with Jared Kushner I find horrifying, terrifying right now for the sake of $350 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Let’s not forget. We’re giving aerial support to a genocidal war that Saudi Arabia is now prosecuting against Yemen. Tens of thousands of people have starved, many of them children. You can’t get more corrupt than that. And Mike Pompeo, when he was asked about it, when people said how can the United States do this? It’s such a complete lack of moral authority. This was his response. He said, well, sometimes you have strategic partnerships with people who do not share your values. My response to that is no, you can’t. That means you have no values. So on the level of international policy as well as domestic policy, the first thing we do, we bring our core values back. So that internationally, we’re supporting democracy and we’re supporting humanitarian values. And that does not mean you’re in bed with the Saudi Arabians.

MARTIN: Do you feel, in some way, that you have a language that some parts of the country understand sort of implicitly and that other people just don’t? I mean, I’ve noticed that many people when they meet you one on one really like talking with you. You know, I’ve noticed that. Even people who are very kind of skeptical of your presence in the race. And, frankly, people who are afraid that you are a distraction to the core project of defeating Donald Trump. Because obviously, that’s a big priority for some people. For some people, it’s like the connection with you is so obvious and implicit and they just don’t understand why other people don’t see the world as you do. Do you see that? Do you agree?

WILLIAMSON: No. I was the most Googled person in 49 states after the second debate. And I got much less time than other candidates. Now, what that says to me is that a lot of people might have wanted to hear more. But I’m also an adult and I see the forces that were used, the articles, the memes, the talking points to minimalize, peripheralize, mock, and disparage my candidacy. So I don’t think that — we know whether or not the American people want to hear. I’m telling you everywhere I go, there are two different political universes. There’s the machinery and then there are the people on the ground. And I feel among the people on the ground, I’m doing just fine.

MARTIN: Marianne Williamson, thank you so much for talking to us.

WILLIAMSON: Thank you. Thank you so much.

MARTIN: Thank you.

WILLIAMSON: Appreciate that.

About This Episode EXPAND

Jonathan Safran Foer speaks to Christiane Amanpour about his new book “We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.” Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson joins the program to talk policy plans and what it will take for her party to beat Trump in 2020. Julian Fellowes discusses the new “Downton Abbey” film.