2024 presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson makes pitch to Black voters
The best-selling author and spiritual leader sits down with theGrio to discuss her plan to enact reparations for Black Americans and why she is undeterred by critics who say her bid for the White House is a long shot.
Though critics say 2024 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson has a long-shot path to the White House, the best-selling author and spiritual leader is undeterred in her quest to unseat President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination.
“That’s exactly what we said about Donald Trump. And for that matter, Barack Obama was considered a long shot when he first ran,” said Williamson in a nearly 30-minute interview with theGrio about her presidential campaign.
This isn’t Williamson’s first attempt at clinching the Democratic nomination. In 2019, she launched her 2020 campaign for president and, ultimately, dropped out before the primary elections.
Four years later, Williamson says she believes she can do a better job than President Biden to “repair” the country, all from her economic agenda – which includes Medicare for All and upending the existing gap between the top 1 percent and less wealthy Americans – to her reparations plan for Black Americans and the descendants of enslaved people in the United States.
“There is a debt that needs to be paid,” said Williamson. “I would be a president who recognizes that and do everything in my power to get it paid.”
Criticizing the Biden administration’s support for H.R.40, a congressional bill that would create a commission to study the reparations in America, Williamson said, “We really don’t need another study about the effects of slavery. It’s time to actually begin to do something about it.”
She called the effort “classic deflection of a presidential administration [that] doesn’t want to have to deal with it at all.”
The White House hopeful acknowledged the elephant in the room when asked about her pitch to Black Americans who wonder why they should vote for her.
“I’m a white woman,” she said. “As a white woman, there’s a limit to what I can understand from the experience within a system. I can’t understand what it is like to be a Black person in America.”
However, the self-described “student of history” said when it comes to economic justice for Black Americans, “I understand the significance of the Civil Rights Act, and I understand the one piece that has still not been taken care of — and that is financial remuneration.”
Read theGrio’s Q&A with 2024 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson below.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
TheGrio: Four years ago, you launched your presidential campaign, seeking the Democratic nomination in 2020. Ultimately, you dropped out of the race before the primary elections. What made you decide to put your name back in the race for the 2024 presidential election? What’s different this time?
Marianne Williamson: I believe that many of the things that I talked about four years ago, the problems that I addressed, are even more true today. I think that people are more open today to a conversation that I’m having, including, at this time, the possibility of an actual economic U-turn in this country. We live in a society [that] is economically unjust for the majority of people. We have had, over the last 48 years, a $50 trillion transfer of wealth from the bottom 90 percent to the 1 percent of people. What the president’s agenda says is, look, life’s tough, and I’ll help you survive it. I’ll help ameliorate the stress of living in a situation where 60 percent of people, for instance, are living paycheck to paycheck.
My agenda is something that I think people realize is reasonable. Why don’t we just end the injustice? Why don’t the American people get what the average citizen of every other advanced democracy gets? They get universal health care, they get tuition-free college and university – which we had until the 1960s. They get free childcare. They get a guaranteed livable wage. They get family and sick pay. Americans are waking up, and that is an agenda that needs to be effectuated. I think that it’s the only agenda that’s going to beat back the Republicans in 2024. But more importantly, I think it’s the agenda that’s going to repair this country.
TG: Obviously, no sitting president wants to be primaried. And I can imagine that the administration and Democratic leadership are not necessarily happy about your campaign for president. There are also critics who have called you a fringe candidate who has a long-shot path to the Oval Office. What is your response to critics?
MW: I grew up at a time when Eugene McCarthy primaried [President Lyndon B. Johnson]. Bobby Kennedy primaried LBJ. Nobody even thought about saying, ‘You can’t or you shouldn’t.’ It’s called a democracy. Democratic voters and the American people should hear as many voices with as many ideas, particularly at a time like this. This should not be a decision made by a bunch of men sitting around a table smoking cigars, deciding who the nominee should be like 100 years ago. No sitting president wants it … well, there are a lot of things they don’t want.
As far as me being a long shot is concerned, I think that’s exactly what we said about Donald Trump. And for that matter, Barack Obama was considered a long shot when he first ran. Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in, remember? So they say things like this because they’ll say whatever it takes to peripheralize a candidacy [that] is inconvenient to them.
TG: In your 2020 presidential campaign, a core part of your campaign was the issue of reparations, obviously a topic that is incredibly important to African-Americans and the descendants of the enslaved in the U.S. The Biden administration said that the president supports H.R. 40, which would create a commission to study the issue of reparations, but believes that should come from Congress. What is your commitment, in terms of the issue of reparations, and how this administration is handling it?
MW: This is a way to just kick something down the road. We really don’t need another study about the effects of slavery. It’s time to actually begin to do something about it. This is classic deflection of a presidential administration [that] doesn’t want to have to deal with it at all. Black people voting for this president, and also voting for Democrats in 2022, have been so responsible for the Democratic wins and the Democratic power that exists now in this Congress. There is a debt that needs to be paid. And I believe the question now is not evidence about the problem, but a serious conversation about the solution.
TG: And in terms of the types of reparations – I know in California, in San Francisco in particular, there are a plethora of ideas of what reparations should look like, such as not having taxes for Black business owners or purchasing homes for $1. Do you have a specific plan?
MW: First of all, I think if I owe you money, it’s not my business how you spend it. My plan involves what I think of as a council of Black elders that would be people [who are] intergenerational also. I think the money should be dispersed over 20 years. The money [would] be for education and economic renewal. Within that, how the money is dispersed, whether it’s the historic Black colleges, whether to economic renewal, gentrification, whatever it is … I believe that those decisions should be made by Black people and not white people.
TG: President Biden, Vice President Harris and the administration have been touted by many in the Democratic Party for passing some of the most landmark legislation since FDR and Lyndon B. Johnson – from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the Inflation Reduction Act and even some of the federal investments from the American Rescue Plan. How would you assess the job performance of the Biden-Harris administration, and why do you believe that you can do a better job?
MW: Well, the president defeated Trump, and for that, we owe him a debt of gratitude. The president has taken incremental approaches, which have ameliorated some of the stress that people are living with. But people still do not have universal health care. He has said that he would veto a Medicare For All bill. He promised that we would be raising the minimum wage, and when it went beyond federal workers, once it hit the no from the parliamentarian, who actually has no political authority, they just left it at that. They have [lowered] child poverty rate in this country with the Child Tax Credit, but then when that expired, they did not bother to permanentize it.
The president said that he has recognized the existential threat posed by climate change, but he’s actually given more drilling permits — even than Trump did — and now he has OK’d the Willow Project, which is an $8 billion project of fossil fuel extraction in the North Slope of Alaska that will have catastrophic environmental consequences. What [the president] has done, some of which is to be commended, is not this radical FDR-type stuff that they come up with in PR think tanks in Washington.
Twenty percent of Americans are doing fine in the United States, but living on a kind of economic enchanted island that is surrounded by a sea of economic despair. To go into the 2024 race with a message that the economy is doing well when it’s only doing well for 20 percent of the people … is so contrary to the visceral experience of the majority of Americans. In 2024, we need to say to the American people — and I am the one who would say that — you deserve an economic U-turn.
We have a corporate aristocracy where the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies, the big food companies, the big chemical companies, the big agricultural companies, the gun manufacturers, big oil and defense contractors own this country. The government should be protecting the people, not enabling these big corporate monopolies the way they are. The president pushes back a little. I would push back a lot.
TG: How would you govern a divided Congress? Obviously, the president can only do so much. You talk about many of these issues relating to the economy and health care. But you alone would not be able to do that. Can you talk to the challenges that you would ultimately have to navigate with what we see in the current Congress today?
MW: Well, obviously, the president doesn’t have a magic wand. We don’t have dictators here. The president has to work with a co-equal branch of government. So for every president, obviously, if you do have one party that’s against you — particularly if it’s a party the way the Republicans are now, where they’re very obstructionist to anything the president would want — then it’s harder. But the president still has a lot of power. The president still has executive orders. The president still has a capacity to appoint heads of agencies. And most importantly, I think the president has a bully pulpit. And I would use that bully pulpit and think I would use it to great effect.
TG: This week marks 13 years since the Affordable Care Act became law, which led to a significant decline in uninsured Black Americans. But health disparities persist for many Black people in America. I know you support Medicare for all, and you are not the only Democrat to support the idea of Medicare for all. But how would you make it happen if you were president?
MW: I think a lot of people who are hearing me on this campaign point out that this is what the citizens of every other advanced democracy have. Eighteen million Americans cannot afford to fulfill their prescriptions given to them by the doctors. Sixty-eight thousand Americans die every year from lack of health care. Eighty-five million Americans are underinsured or uninsured. I’m sure most people listening right now know at least one person who is rationing their insulin.
I think that what’s happening in this country is that we are reaching the critical mass of enough is enough. Our people are dying literally so that the insurance companies can make these tremendous profits. We have an $88 billion medical debt in this country. One in four Americans live with medical debt. Meanwhile, if you take the top five pharmaceutical companies and their profits just in one year alone, that was $80 billion last year. People are getting to the point where I think they are willing to elect a leader who says you have a right to be outraged about this, and we are going to do something about it.
The people are still going to have to elect the congresspeople and the senators who will bring it, but I’m going to be talking about it not only with whatever power I have to sway Congress. I’m going to be talking to the American people and inspiring them to speak to their congresspeople. And I will, as opposed to President Biden, who says that he would veto a Medicare For All bill, I will sign it with great joy.
TG: Black communities, as you know, continuously witnessed countless deadly police encounters of primarily Black young men – most recently in Virginia. There was also the beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. How would a Williamson administration address the issue of policing and race in America?
MW: First thing I would do is I would call [Senators] Cory Booker and Tim Scott. I would say, come over to the Oval Office, bring whoever you want, and we’re going to have some serious bipartisan police reform bill here. This is going to happen, and I’m not going to stop until it does.
It is absolutely unacceptable that Black mothers throughout this country are afraid to tell their sons, ‘Would you go to the store and get me a pint of milk.’ I will not be talking about how we have to just do more to fund the police. We need to reform the police in this country — everything from training to qualified immunity to chokeholds. When the George Floyd bill did not pass, I would have liked to have heard the president express appropriate outrage. That’s what you will have in me: A president who names the problem, who isn’t pussyfooting around the problem, who recognizes it as a national emergency and will seek to work with leaders, both Black and white, to come up with some actual solutions so that these horrors do not continue.
TG: You’ve previously mentioned how you would use the bully pulpit if you were president. President Biden has been touted for being a unifier, for being a president who kind of strikes a certain even tone that has been effective in Washington, especially when you think about some of the bipartisan legislation that was passed. Do you think that you can be a unifier in Washington if you were president?
MW: I don’t think that this country is so unified, and I’m not blaming the president for that. But his moderate appeal and his ability to work to some extent across the aisle in Washington is in contrast to the actual experience of what is going on in America. There is tremendous disunity in America.
FDR said we would not have to worry about an authoritarian fascist threat as long as democracy delivered on its promises. It’s not about your tone. It’s about you delivering on your promises. That’s why in the 2024 election, someone offering to the American people an agenda of genuine reform and real economic change in their lives is the only thing that’s going to win. I believe the way to unify this country is to give to the majority of American people, on both left and right, the blessings of democracy that the citizens of every other advanced democracy already have.
TG: You can’t quite talk about the 2024 presidential election and not say the name ‘Donald Trump.’ If he somehow ends up still being the nominee for the Republican Party, do you believe you are the candidate to actually beat him? And why?
MW: I will tell you this: Ron DeSantis does not scare me any less than Donald Trump, in terms of the actual fascist ideas he has about Florida. When you’re talking about telling people, who have undocumented workers in their car or their house, that they could be charged with a felony, when you’re talking about taking books off library shelves, when you’re talking about telling colleges what they can and cannot teach. The threat that I believe DeSantis poses in Florida, his fight against “wokeness” or whatever it is, is not something we need in the United States.
Both of them represent politics that are filled with lies. And the only way to defeat big lies is with big truths. And that’s what I’m telling the president does this thing that corporatist Democrats do. They tell the truth, but they don’t tell the whole truth. And they don’t tell nothing but the truth. We need to lay down some real truth-telling in this country. Young people particularly are ready for it. I think disadvantaged communities are ready for it because they’re tired of all the gaslighting. And I think the fact that I’m the one who would lay down the kind of fundamental, authentic, radical truth-telling that I do is actually the only way to defeat the big lies that will be coming from Trump and perhaps others in 2024.
TG: In your last campaign for president, you [talked] about the ways in which hate has been harnessed in America’s politics and how there is opportunity for love to be harnessed in a different way in American politics. Do you find that when talking about things like love and given your background as an author of spirituality, it’s almost a dirty word in politics?
MW: There is a political elite to whom the conversation sounds airy-fairy or silly unless it’s someone like a Cory Booker who mentions it or some male minister mentions it. So that’s just an inconvenience for them that I bring up something more expansive than their political dialog, which actually is sort of based in 1984. I can tell you this: When I’m talking to voters, they don’t think it’s ridiculous. The voters in this country realize we have a problem on our hands. Hatred in all its most virulent forms — white supremacy, racism, antisemitism — these ancient malevolent forces of mind have been harnessed in our time as they have been harnessed before for political purposes.
At a time when hate is shouting, love cannot afford to whisper. We need to harness what [President Abraham] Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. We need to harness love of justice, love of democracy, love of one another, love of the earth. So absolutely, we need to harness the counterforce to all that hatred that’s out there. We need to harness that for political purposes, and the [voters] that I talk to don’t think that that’s a joke whatsoever.
TG: Any final thoughts to voters? Particularly Black voters?
MW: I am a white woman, so as a white woman, there’s a limit to what I can understand from the experience within a system. I can’t understand what it feels like to be a Black person in America, but I am a student of history. I do come from a persecuted people myself, and I recognize the sweep of American history. I understand the role of slavery. I understand the social justice movement of abolition. I understand the 100 years of institutionalized oppression in the form of segregation that followed the Civil War. I understand the importance of the Voting Rights Act in the mid-’60s, which has been gutted by the John Roberts Supreme Court. I understand the significance of the Civil Rights Act, and I understand the one piece that has still not been taken care of, and that is financial remuneration.
I [also] understand the gap that exists between the wage-earning of Black Americans and white Americans. I understand that as we close that gap, our economy will be $1.5 trillion larger. I understand there is a debt that is owed. After World War II, Germany paid $89 billion in reparations to Jewish organizations. Obviously, this didn’t mean the Holocaust didn’t happen, but financial remuneration, I believe, went far toward the psychological and emotional healing, as well as financial, between Germany and the Jews of Europe. We need to do that in our country as well. I would be a president who recognizes that and do everything in my power to get it paid.
Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and White House Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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