Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, a self-help author and wellness activist, brought her unique brand of spiritual politics to a crowd of more than 80 people at the Keene Yoga Center Wednesday before carrying on to a West Street house party.
Williamson, author of “A Return to Love," which was popularized by Oprah Winfrey, brings a mix of metaphysics and introspection to the campaign trail in a way that stands out from the field of more than 20 Democrats.
She is in favor of reparations for slavery to African-Americans, following a model similar to Germany’s implementation after the Holocaust, and wants Americans to better understand how violence and discrimination have coexisted with the aspirations set forth in the Declaration of Independence, which she calls America’s “mission statement.”
At both Keene campaign stops, she proposed new departments with cabinet-level positions: the Department of Childhood and Youth and Department of Peace.
Both proposals shed light on a broader philosophical view Williamson brings to the campaign, of the need to balance priorities in the United States.
Dedicating more resources to childcare, Williamson argued, would help reduce opioid addiction and crime by strengthening childhood literacy and reducing hunger.
On the global stage, Williamson said shifting resources away from the Department of Defense and toward the State Department and her envisioned Department of Peace would prevent lengthy wars by solving conflicts at earlier stages in diplomacy.
Williamson’s only other experience in politics came in 2014, when she ran in a Democratic primary for California’s 33rd Congressional District, earning endorsements from political figures like Dennis Kucinich and Van Jones.
She also had her campaign song composed by Alanis Morissette and won support from celebrities like Eva Longoria and Kim Kardashian.
Turns of phrase that weave through her books also find their way into transitions in Williamson’s stump speech, from “waging peace” to diagnosing a “chronic economic anxiety” in the “sociopathic economic system” of American capitalism.
Jodi Newell, a 38-year-old junior at Keene State College, said she found Williamson’s rhetorical style and framing of issues refreshing.
“She’s speaking in a way politicians don’t usually speak,” Newell said after the event at the yoga center on Roxbury Street. “She’s speaking from a spiritual perspective.”
Williamson’s embrace of spirituality also drew different kinds of voters to Wednesday’s events.
Some, like Newell, are dialed-in progressives who make an effort to see as many candidates as possible, following the race closely in the news and taking their role seriously as first-in-the-nation primary voters.
Others came to see Williamson not just because she’s a presidential candidate, but also because of the spectrum of ideas her work touches on and a sense that she’s an outsider who can connect Vietnam-era activism to 2019.
A few voters came from Vermont to see Williamson. Michael Lucas, a 78-year-old retiree, even drove up from Northport, N.Y., a town on Long Island.
Lucas attended only the West Street house party and gave Williamson some of his writings on the Kennedy assassination and his belief that 9/11 was an inside job.
The Long Islander came away disappointed, he said, when Williamson would not call on him for additional questions and when he learned that she is running as a Democrat and not an independent.
“You know, I can’t sit in an Oprah Winfrey audience,” Lucas said before taking the nearly five-hour drive back home. “I need real data, and facts and figures. Not a public speaker.”
Williamson was asked by others about her opinions on a wide range of conspiracy theories, from whether 5G cellular service gives people cancer to the long-trodden anti-Semitic trope of the Rothschild family controlling the world economy.
One man at the yoga studio even asked whether she thinks she’ll be assassinated because of her views if she gains more national attention during the campaign.
The same voter compared her to the late U.S. senator Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota progressive who died in an airplane crash the FBI deemed to be accidental and not involving foul play.
“If I became president of the United States, and I came in there and I started talking about the problems with the Federal Reserve and what happened in 1910 and Baron Rothschild, et cetera — first of all, they’d probably kill me, too,” Williamson said in jest.
Meanwhile, next door to the house party, Steve Giguere was not pleased.
The 52-year-old electrician had some qualms about some people parking on his lawn and did not like what he was hearing from Williamson over the sound system next to his backyard.
While working on his pool, Giguere could be heard muttering his own responses to Williamson’s stump speech applause lines, like “waging peace.”
“You can’t not be prepared for war,” said Giguere, who said he tends to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”
“She’s talking about not spending all this money on war, but you know what? The way I see it, if we got it, hopefully we don’t have to use it. That’s why I have insurance: so I don’t have to use it.”
Kathleen O’Donnell, the host of the event, said she has not endorsed a candidate yet and added that she may host other candidates in the future.
After the party, Williamson said she’s used to encountering people with widely varying perspectives and the occasional conspiracy theory, but that campaigning for president has led her to encounter them more frequently.
Rather than having staff intervene or simply dismissing the questioners, Williamson always heard them out and responded in more general terms to their grievances.
“Everybody brings a piece of information. Everybody brings something,” Williamson told The Sentinel. “And they’re bringing their value as human beings, and this is a democracy. How well have the pseudo-sophisticated, pseudo-intellectual crowd done for them?”
This article has been altered to correct the name of a book Williamson authored.