Who is 2024 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson?

After spending decades writing self-help books, starting nonprofits dedicated to building peace, and serving as a self-described “spiritual thought leader,” Marianne Williamson has pivoted to politics.

The 71-year-old is a two-time Democratic presidential candidate who first ran in 2020 and has now joined the 2024 race. When she announced her second long-shot bid in March 2023, Williamson said an outsider like her needed to participate in politics because “the status quo … will not disrupt itself.” She also vowed to end “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.”

A book changes everything

Williamson has been fighting for the underdog since she was young and says that her liberal parents made her “deeply aware of issues of social justice.” She was born in Houston to an immigration lawyer and stay-at-home mom, and was part of the “cultural and spiritual revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s. “I was every bit a child of my generation,” she declared.

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She spent two years at Pomona College in California studying philosophy and theater before dropping out and working odd jobs. The trajectory of Williamson’s life changed after she picked up a copy of “A Course in Miracles,” a self-study program published in 1975 that seeks to help readers learn how to heal relationships “through the inspired practice of forgiveness.” Williamson is Jewish, and this program — which was written by Helen Schucman, who said she was channeling Jesus Christ — further piqued her interest in spirituality.

This was Williamson’s “path out of hell,” she said. “Before the ‘Course,’ I felt like I was on a desperate journey to find God, but as much as I climbed up this huge flight of stone steps in front of a cathedral, my knees bloody and my elbows bloody, the cathedral door was locked,” Williamson told The New York Times in 2019. “And when I read the ‘Course,’ I thought I understood the key.” She started giving lectures on “A Course in Miracles,” and as the AIDS epidemic began to rage, Williamson founded the nonprofit Project Angel Food, which delivered food to people dying of the disease.

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“A Course of Miracles” continued to guide Williamson’s path, and was the inspiration behind her first book, 1992’s “A Return to Love.” Oprah Winfrey read the book and loved it, declaring during an episode of her show that it sparked “157 miracles” in her own life. Williamson became close to Winfrey and was known as her spiritual advisor. The talk show host’s huge audience boosted “A Return to Love,” and Williamson went on to write 14 additional books.

A new path to politics

Williamson had detractors — in 1997, journalist Lynda Gorov called her a “high priestess of pop religion” whose writing is “hyperbolic and given to psychobabble” — but remained focused on the spiritual side of things, moving to the Detroit area in 1998 for a stint running a megachurch. Her first foray into politics came 16 years later when she ran as an independent in California’s 33rd Congressional District and came in fourth place.

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Williamson has long had relationships with celebrities — she officiated Elizabeth Taylor’s 1991 wedding to Larry Fortensky at Neverland Ranch — and received donations from Jeff Bridges, Dave Navarro and Deepak Chopra when she announced she was entering the 2020 presidential race, Vanity Fair reported. Perhaps her most memorable moment from that campaign took place during a debate, when she earnestly delivered a plea to then-President Donald Trump, saying, “You have harnessed fear for political purposes, and only love can cast that out. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field. And sir, love will win.”

Williamson exited the race early, but not before she started gaining traction with a younger audience that shared her messaging on social media. Now that she has embarked on her second quest for the White House, Williamson still has that pull; in April, an Echelon Insights poll showed her “hovering above 20% with voters under 30,” The Intercept summarized. (A Times poll published Aug. 1 showed Williamson with 10% support among Democratic primary voters if the contest were held today.)

The candidate is calling for universal health care, maternal and paternal leave, free tuition to public colleges, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and an increase to the federal minimum wage. And these are all ideas that resonate, The Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi wrote. “Williamson’s popularity on TikTok isn’t some insignificant online phenomenon,” she said. “It’s a sign of how disillusioned young people feel with the current system.”

Williamson wants to be the one to usher in change for the next generation, having told The Nation that her candidacy is “about ending a 50-year aberrational chapter of American history and beginning a new one. Neoliberalism has devastated not only our economy, creating the greatest income inequality in 100 years, it has infected every aspect of our culture with injustice and despair. It’s time for us to recognize that, cut the cord, and begin again. It’s going to take someone who is not afraid of that machine to smash it.”

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