Exclusive Q&A: Former Pomona student Marianne Williamson runs for president

Nina Potischman • The Student Life

Marianne Williamson, a spiritual leader and Pomona College student from 1970 to 1972, announced her bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president Jan. 28.

TSL news editor Laney Pope PO ’21 spoke with Williamson Wednesday about her time as a student at Pomona, her unconventional candidacy and why she felt compelled to run.

TSL: Tell me about your time as a student at Pomona.  

Marianne Williamson: I didn’t leave thinking I wouldn’t be back. I thought I was just leaving for a semester or two, and then life just sort of took [me] elsewhere. At that time in my life … I wish I had it in me to focus more and delve more deeply into my education, however, the education I did get at Pomona was strong. …

There was also a teacher there named Stanley Crouch, who was, and I assume, still is a brilliant jazz philosopher teacher, and he strongly impacted my life. Plus, I studied philosophy with people such as Steve Erickson. It was profound. It was only two years, but it was profound.

TSL: What did you do when you left?

MW: I went to New Mexico, and I grew vegetables, and I lived in a geodesic dome. And that was the semester … I went to University of New Mexico where I also learned a lot.

TSL: You had a successful career as an author and a spiritual leader. Why did you decide to run for president?

MW: Running for president comes from something deeper than a normal decision-making process. And I’m sure this is true for everyone who’s running, you have to feel some serious calling of the heart and gut to take this on. The calling was there, but then it took another year and a half of somewhat difficult processing to make the decision to do this. I think millions of people are looking at what’s happening in this country today and asking ourselves, ‘How can I best serve?’ That’s the only meaningful question ever, really. But certainly at a time like this … this feels to me like the best way I can serve.

TSL: What will set you apart from other candidates?

MW: Any person in any situation who tells their deepest truth is setting themselves apart from others because nobody’s story is the same as anyone else’s. Nobody’s take on life is exactly the same as anybody else’s because nobody’s experiences the same as anybody else’s. That doesn’t make me special. It just means I have my unique perspective. And that’s true of every candidate.

I have over the last 35 years worked in the field of personal transformation and I am aware that you can’t really change things just by tweaking things on the outside. You have to understand more deeply, you have to have … a deeper emotional, spiritual and psychological understanding of what brought you to where you are in order to navigate yourself into a different situation. …

The citizens of this country need to awaken internally to some of the darker as well as more light-filled aspects of American civilization. Only that kind of activation, that internal activation will result in the kind of activism that overrides the more serious forces that threaten our democracy today.

TSL: You mention that the American people need to “awaken internally.” How would you facilitate that?

MW: I think people respond to a conversation. Words are powerful and a large part of the work of the presidency is the holy pulpit. Franklin Roosevelt said the most important aspect of the job of the presidency is moral leadership. I think the biggest problem we have in our country is our government’s moral equivocation … I see alignment with our democratic principles and our deeper human values as the core of our strength and our power. The core of our strength and our power is not short-term profit maximization for multinational corporate conglomerates.

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TSL: What are some central issues to your campaign?

MW: We have a sociopathic economic system. We have an economic system that has no sense of ethical responsibility to workers or to environment or to community. It is a system of unfettered capitalism, a capitalism untethered to any ethical consideration. Our capitalism has swerved from its ethical center. This has corrupted our economy and has ultimately corrupted our government because our government is at present a system of legalized bribery by which [the] government works more to advocate for short-term profits for huge multinational corporations than to advocate for the health and wellbeing of the American people and the planet on which we live.

TSL: How has your career in activism influenced your politics?

MW: Well, I think the most important thing about my activism is that it is centered in compassion and whether it has been my nonprofit work or my professional work, it shouldn’t matter. We should be using whatever we’re doing to extend love and politics should extend love. When you have millions of American children who are living in chronic trauma and we’re basically just normalizing their despair, where is the love? When you have an [Environmental Protection Agency] that does more to advocate for the profits of oil companies and chemical companies than for the Earth…Where’s the love? … So it’s not just what I’ve learned from activism, it’s what I’ve learned from life is that love matters and everything else is secondary.

TSL: The Democratic nominee for president is going to be competing against President Donald Trump, who was a non-traditional candidate. How do you think the American people are going to react to you as another non-traditional candidate?

MW: The American people wanted change in 2016 and I believe there was going to be a populist cry of despair. It was either going to be in the direction of a progressive populist or an authoritarian populist. And even though what we got was no change agent at all, or one might say a change agent in the worst possible way, the cry for change was itself legitimate. And I believe that the cry for change still exists.

TSL: If this desire for something new led to your presidency, how would you respond to concerns that you lack experience in areas like foreign policy?

MW: Anybody who thinks that someone who has served two sessions in the House of Representatives has the qualifications of deep experience in foreign policy is naive about what congressmen do. These are people who spend 65 to 70 percent of their time asking for money. It is an illusion that the qualification of political experience is necessary for this job. Our founders said that the qualification for president is 14 years having lived here, 35 years old and born here. If they’d wanted to say the person had to have been a congressman or a senator or a lawyer, they would have, but they didn’t because they wanted to leave it to every generation to determine for itself the skill set they feel is necessary to navigate the times in which they live. And I feel that my skill set born of my career gives me qualifications that are most necessary for navigating the times in which we live.

TSL: Democratic National Committee rules say that in order for you to get into the debates, you need 65,000 unique contributors from 20 states. How close are you to this number?

MW: We are certainly not anywhere near what the traditional candidates have, but we’re not doing poorly either. … I feel there is a lot of activation around my campaign, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t feel there was.

TSL: Do you think you realistically have a shot at the presidency?

MW: Donald Trump is president. The idea that anybody can predict anything is obviously absurd.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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