Penn Justice Democrats hosted 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson at an event Tuesday night.
About 100 attendees gathered in Houston Hall’s Bodek Lounge for the event. Williamson spoke to the crowd for about an hour and then took questions from attendees. At the event, Williamson focused on what she called a sense of political “desperation” in the country and the power of love and spirituality in political change.
Williamson, author of 13 nationally acclaimed books, is also a progressive political activist and founder of several nonprofit organizations. Her work revolves around the role of spirituality in activism.
Williamson used historical comparisons and her belief in prayer to frame her arguments at the event. She referenced the success of past social movements – such as abolition and women’s suffrage – to make the case for today’s societal change, stressing that it only takes a few people to start a movement.
“There are people in this country who know how to fix things. You can watch any [policy] area and there are people who know what to do. But the people who know what to do to turn this into a sustainable future are not people who represent short-term profit maximization for the corporate interests that run our government,” Williamson said.
At the event, Williamson also criticized the Democratic Party.
“Democrats who often say, ‘well, I’m really sorry how hard this is,’ are trying to dull the pain on the periphery, but are unwilling to challenge all the forces that make that suffering inevitable” , she said.
Annenberg School for Communication Ph.D. nominee Baird Howland said he had been following Williamson’s career for years and decided to attend the event after seeing a poster.
“I’ve always enjoyed Marianne Williamson’s perspective and also found her to be a weird but intriguing political figure. So I wanted to hear what she had to say, because she’s probably running for president. [in 2024,] or testing the waters,” Howland said.
Williamson previously ran for president in 2020 as the Democratic Party nominee. His platform centered on demanding reparations for black Americans, a “Medicare for All” healthcare system and support for the Green New Deal. After her campaign ended, she endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.
Howland added that, despite Williamson’s late arrival, his presence captured the attention of members of the public.
“She was late. But the second she walked into the room, everyone fell silent before she was introduced or even took the stage,” Howland said. “[Williamson] has a certain presence.
Throughout the evening, Williamson brought attendees together to “meditate in the morning, kick ass in the afternoon.”
Tara Yazdan Panah, president of Penn Justice Dems Outreach and a senior at the College, said many members of the club’s current board are longtime admirers of Williamson’s work, which is a big reason they wanted welcome him for this event.
“We really wanted to bring a prominent member of the left-wing progressive community to Penn’s campus,” Yazdan Panah said. “She has been an inspiration to many on our Board and the organization in general. We thought this was the perfect opportunity to invite her over and hear what she had to say about spirituality and politics.
College senior and Penn Justice Dems member Noah Ryan said he liked how religiosity and love were prominent themes in Williamson’s speech.
“I think a lot of the discussions on the left tend to be very secular because we support the separation of church and state, so having that spiritual aspect [of her speech] was very enlightening,” Ryan said.
College freshman Carey Salvin said she remembered being “greatly amused” watching Williamson at the 2020 presidential debates. Salvin added that she attended the event in the hope to hear Williamson talk about his positions on access to education and health care.
“She ended up talking a lot about the role of faith and spirituality in modern politics [at the event.]said Salvin. “I didn’t exactly agree with his views specifically regarding the pervasiveness of spirituality and faith in current American politics, but I still found it very interesting.”