What Happens When a Spiritual Leader Runs for Congress

The intersection of being a political nerd and spiritual seeker

Marianne Williamson, the spiritual guru, is running for congress. On June 3rd, she stands as an independent candidate in the primary election for California’s 33rd district.

In March, I attended a political fundraiser in her name hosted by 3 bona fide online celebrities — Kris Carr, Marie Forleo and Danielle LaPorte (who sent this video). I’m a political sort — I worked in the US Senate in 2008, studied politics in university and have devoured every episode of The West Wing a dozen times. I’m also sitting here in yoga gear, with a pious green juice next to me as I type. That’s to say, that I’m both a political nerd and a spiritual seeker.

Williamson’s fundraiser was bizarre. The audience was about 98% women; spiritual types, with patiently nodding heads, mala beads and really good hair. Williamson’s self-described “grass-roots movement” cost $100 a ticket. Held at a swanky Manhattan venue, most attendees were white and wealthy.

It was awkwardly pitched and rather sloppily run. The evening was 90% ra-ra inspiration, 10% policy platform. Two very successful business women (Carr & Forleo) spoke in broad strokes about society and service, though they were clearly out of their depth in a political context. “Public policy should reflect the best of humanity,” said Forleo, which is a fine ideal but a little light on the specifics. Williamson herself gave a rousing, if a little rehearsed speech that hit all the right notes. She moved around the stage like a lithe dancer, spinning her favourite soundbites. She talked child poverty, mass incarceration, money in politics and caring for “our” earth. She criticised Iran, and described Americans as “funky and entrepreneurial”. She even name-checked the sacred ground of Gettysburg. She easily whipped the eager crowd into frenzy.

“You can’t transform the world over white wine and brie”

This was a white wine and brie crowd. They loved it. I felt like I’d wandered into the world’s most self-satisfied cult. Williamson’s central thesis is a spiritual one; “a problem can’t be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. Every bit the spiritual leader, Williamson is flush with good intentions, but good intentions are not enough. As a political candidate, she needs to court the electorate rather than lecturing to them.

“Let’s, like, make this real.”

Much of the evening was spent on talk of skeptics and cynics (who were cast as the pitiful unenlightened rather than the conscientious dissenters). Policy was tangential to the goal of national enlightenment. She asked if there was a Senate race in New York this time around, and no-one knows. (To be fair, neither did I.) My point is that while this may be an enlightened audience, it’s not a politically literate one. Anyone with ambition to change the political system, must first strive to understand it.

I wish her well. I welcome fresh voices into the national political conversation. I think that as a woman and an entrepreneur, Willliamson has something to contribute. But, she needs to embrace her identity as a political candidate, not a spiritual prophet.

The evening ended with a prayer. Williamson moved awkwardly to the side and watched, with a hint of desperation perhaps, as the audience were encouraged to reach for their check books. They obediently obliged.