Presidential candidate and former Pomona College student Marianne Williamson wants 5C students to know she’s not a “wacko crystal lady,” as some have characterized her.
Speaking to a packed Rose Hills Theatre at Pomona on Wednesday night for a forum hosted by TSL, Williamson discussed her vision for a more loving America while refuting claims about her candidacy she said are inaccurate and have contributed to declining national interest in her campaign.
“The first day after the second debate I was the most Googled person in 49 states,” Williamson said. “But starting the third day after the debate you could hardly pick up a newspaper [or] magazine [where] there wasn’t anything about what a dangerous, crazy [person] I am. That was a smear intended to place in the minds of reasonable Democrats, particularly, the idea that I’m the last person you could take seriously.”
Williamson’s return to Pomona — the first time she’d been back to Claremont since leaving school in 1972 partway through her college career — was eagerly anticipated by 5C students who had watched the author and spiritual leader captivate the country with her unconventional policy proposals and quirky presence in the first two Democratic presidential primary debates this past summer.
Though Williamson has failed to qualify for subsequent debates and is polling at under 1 percent in a RealClearPolitics polling average, more than 200 people still came to see her Thursday, lining up for more than an hour before the speech and student-moderated discussion, filling the theater and spilling into overflow rooms.
Williamson also visited Scripps College earlier in the day for a meet-and-greet hosted by Democrats of the Claremont Colleges.
After the TSL event, students said hearing Williamson articulate her platform made them think of her as a more serious candidate.
“Even though her opinions are kind of out there I appreciate that she’s not the typical establishment candidate. … She’s a great speaker,” Olivia Gleason SC ’21 said after the event at Rose Hills. “I definitely like her a lot more than I did [before hearing her speak] and I definitely wouldn’t count her out.”
Williamson’s nearly hour-long speech — and the following conversation between Williamson and student moderators — delved into topics ranging from reparations for slavery to American capitalism to mental health and the need for “collectivized love.”
“I challenge the idea that only those whose careers have been entrenched within the political system, the mindset of which drove us into this ditch, are the only people qualified to lead us out of it. We need a political visionary more than we need a political mechanic.” – Marianne Williamson, presidential candidate and former Pomona student
Williamson has made headlines for her unique background, policy platforms and debate appearances. But she criticized the idea that her past hasn’t prepared her for the presidency.
“I challenge the idea that only those whose careers have been entrenched within the political system, the mindset of which drove us into this ditch, are the only people qualified to lead us out of it,” she said. “We need a political visionary more than we need a political mechanic.”
Williamson referenced reparations paid to Japanese-Americans after internment and Jews after the Holocaust to justify her call for $500 billion in reparations for slavery to be paid to African American descendants of slaves, but avoided elaborating on some details of her plan.
“By the middle of the 20th century,” Williamson said, “it was totally accepted that if one people had harmed another, economic remuneration was reasonable. It was what you do.”
Williamson also looked to history while discussing perceived harms of the modern economic system, which she traced to trickle-down economics beginning in the 1980s.
“The political establishment is hand-maidened to an economic system that represents a virulent strain of capitalism,” Williamson said. “I’m not anti-capitalism at all, I’m for capitalism with a conscience.”
Williamson discussed her focus on education and childhood policy, drawing applause from the young crowd.
“The key to having the most stunning society and the most stunning economy 10 years from now is to take better care of your 10-year-olds today,” she said. “In the richest country in the world, to withhold education from a child for no other reason than that child does not have well-to-do parents is a form of passive oppression.”
She blamed a “mental health crisis” in the U.S. on a deep-rooted desire for love.
“I have an idea for what we can do about the mental health crisis — stop driving so many people crazy!” Williamson said. “Where the mental health crisis comes from is the fact that there’s so much despair. … We have to address these problems on the level of cause and not just on the level of symptom.”
Williamson said at the event that she has enough money to stay in the race, and wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last month that she has no plans to drop out. She asked attendees Wednesday to help her raise the $1 million she needs to air television advertisements.
The event attracted a cadre of Williamson proponents and volunteers. Elijah Navarrette, a Williamson supporter from Los Angeles, criticized how Willamson has been depicted in the media.
“People always talk about misleading things about Marianne,” Navarrette said. “But it’s a clear smear and they do this with people who disrupt the status quo. … What she’s saying is ultimate truth.”
But many students in the audience remained unconvinced by her policy proposals and expressed doubt that she’ll be able to stay in the race.
“While I don’t support her personally, I’m really excited to see what she has to say in this competitive primary,” Sofia Gardenswartz PO ’22 said. “I expected to see more of a domino effect after Beto [O’Rourke] dropped out, so personally I don’t know that she’ll last much longer.”
Some attended simply for the chance to see a presidential candidate speak but still viewed Williamson’s candidacy with skepticism.
“I’m very excited that she’s on campus because I’ve never seen a presidential candidate speech, but I do find it a bit comical that she’s the presidential candidate we have here,” Rachel Marandett PO ’20 said.
Others appreciated her non-traditional approach to the presidency, but stopped short of supporting her.
“Even though her opinions are kind of out there I appreciate that she’s not the typical establishment candidate. … I definitely like her a lot more than I did [before hearing her speak] and I definitely wouldn’t count her out.” – Olivia Gleason SC ’21
“I’ve heard other candidates speak, and I think she has a very different approach to the candidacy,” Lily Fillwalk PZ ’22 said. “I think she’s very different than the media makes her out to be in terms of crystals and orbs, but I think she has a strong message.”
However, Fillwalk wasn’t convinced by Williamson’s policies.
“She has a lot of good ideas but it doesn’t seem like she has enough policy to implement that or back it up in any way,” Fillwalk said. “This event amplified how I originally felt about her.”
Other students were excited to see a former Sagehen in such a prominent role.
“It’s good to have some Pomona spirit in the race,” Peter Heckendorn PO ’21 said. “Go hens!”
This article was last updated Nov. 7, 2019 at 10:41 p.m.
Julia Frankel PO ’22 is from Brooklyn, New York. She previously served as one of TSL’s news editors.