Marianne Williamson on Being a TikTok Phenom

Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson is taking on Joe Biden and gaining a massive following on TikTok.

Marianne Williamson at a campaign rally at Vic Mathias Shores Park on February 23, 2020 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If engagement on TikTok is any indication, a Democratic primary held today among people under 50 would result in a landslide for Marianne Williamson. Williamson has only posted 63 videos but has drawn more than 10 million views, according to a TikTok data counter. This week on Deconstructed, Ryan Grim speaks with Williamson about her growing popularity with Gen Z, why her message focusing on the economic hardships Americans are facing resonates, and what the Democratic Party is missing.

[Deconstructed theme music.]

Ryan Grim: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Ryan Grim, and I’m probably not telling you anything you wouldn’t have guessed when I say that I’ve struggled to get into TikTok. I started an account a while ago to try to understand it and, within days, my daughters had renamed it and taken it over, so I gave up. But I do understand how important it is, now that it’s reaching more than a hundred million Americans, and it helps to define everyday life for perhaps a majority of people under 30.

So I didn’t discover this thing for myself, but one thing I can tell you is that, if the Democratic primary were held today on TikTok, the result would be a landslide for Marianne Williamson. Now, she’s only posted 60-some-odd videos, but has drawn more than 10 million views there.

But that’s just her official account. There’s now a cottage industry of Marianne Williamson fan accounts that post her speeches and regularly rack up millions of views themselves. An early poll recently showed her at over 20 percent with voters under 30, suggesting that the buzz on TikTok is translating into real support.

So, to help unpack what all that means, we’re joined now by none other than the TikTok phenom herself, Marianne Williamson. Welcome to Deconstructed. 

Marianne Williamson: Thank you, Ryan. It’s great to be here, and it’s always good to be with you. 

RG: And so, when you launched your campaign, how did you think about TikTok, and are you surprised at how you’ve taken off there? 

MW: Well, I wasn’t thinking about TikTok, specifically, but I was thinking about younger people. I had gone on a college tour speaking at eight colleges and universities, because I thought it was important to understand whether or not there was a connection between myself and that younger generation. Once we actually started the campaign, people younger than myself and far more technologically adept were in charge of things like TikTok.

So, there was this gentleman named Christian Perry; all credit really goes to Christian. He was doing this account, I think “Marianne4Prez” or something, on TikTok or on Instagram.

RG: I’ve seen that one.

MW: I’m not even sure why. But for months, and we just started seeing — I think it might have even been longer than months, I don’t really know — but we started seeing all these cool things that people would show us. And I said, well, we should call him, and ask him if he wants to be on the team with us and work with us on the campaign.

So I just kind of let Christian — There’s a wonderful woman named Sandy Fisher and she makes clips, she finds clips from things that I’ve done. And then the wonderful Christian makes these TikToks, and Alex Furlin, who is in charge of social media— It’s just a great group of people. And I put in my two cents here and there about specific content, but they’re the ones who create the magic, and I know enough to just let them do their thing, because they do it so well. 

RG: And since I’m not on TikTok a ton, people had to flag this, for me. So, how did you learn that you were becoming kind of a sensation on this platform?

MW: Well, you know, Ryan, how these things are. On any given day, you might get news that you’re popular in this particular circle of people, and then you’re very unpopular in this circle of people. So you can’t take too much of it too seriously because, if you take all the great stuff seriously, then you have to take the not-great stuff too seriously.

So, I’m grateful for youthful support; I’m grateful for any support, but I’m not kidding myself that anything can be counted on going forward, you know? I mean, I’ve said a couple of times, “Are we still popular on TikTok?” I mean, you were popular on Thursday, are you still popular the next Monday? I’m not taking anything for granted, but I’m certainly appreciative, very grateful.

And I feel seen, you know? I feel seen, and I think that’s really exciting because — and you and I have discussed this before —I’m fascinated by Gen Z, because they’re not 20th century people. They’re not, their thinking is not dominated by some of the 20th century narratives that we just were born into. They don’t see why they should live at the effect of bad ideas left over from the 20th century.

And I learned things when I was traveling, and even since the campaign began. I’ll give you an example: I remember meeting a young woman who was graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, and I asked her what she was going to do now. And she said — with a totally straight face — she said, well, I can’t decide. I was accepted into Columbia Law, but I’m trying to decide, I might do Columbia Law, and I might be a professional astrologer. Now that’s a new world. That’s a new world.

And also, I find today — and I found this the other night — so there’s this article that came out about me, about Greek gods and goddesses, and sort of explaining the campaign in terms of this Greek goddess named Eris. And I was talking to these young people and I realized that, today, people in college who are studying economics, political philosophy, don’t find it odd or uncomfortable in any way to discuss in the same sentence economics and political philosophy and Greek gods and goddesses.

The idea that there are underlying dynamics — They’ve also read Jung, they’ve read Joseph Campbell, they’ve been in therapy sometimes since they were young. So, this younger generation doesn’t find a more whole-person holistic perspective on life wacky or cuckoo. What they think is that anything other than that is fractured and inadequate to the challenges of our time. And, on that, we agree.

RG: What do you think it is about your message that is really appealing to them? And what do you hear back from them? Like, which parts are they picking up that you’re putting down? 

MW: Well, first of all, this country is not a monolith, and no generation is a monolith, no ethnic group is a monolith, so I can hardly speak about all young people. But, I can say that for many of the people that are responding to my work who are young, it’s from this progressive place, but it’s a very different progressivism than some of the progressivism that you and I know, Ryan, because it’s not in any way institutionalized.

I find a lot of the people on the left — the kind of people that you and I know — very, “Oh, I don’t know. Yeah, I like those ideas, but I’m not sure it should be her.” This kind of like — They branded themselves as the official resistors, which really makes you question. Really? I thought it was all about these principles and these ideas and these policies.

Young people don’t have any of that, they’re not interested in any of that. They’re interested in their lives. They’re interested in whether or not they’ll ever get out from under the burden of these college loans. They’re interested in whether or not the planet will be habitable for them. They’re interested in whether or not they’ll be able to make a livable wage, and send their own kids to college, and have healthcare.

So they’re just not interested in the games, and it seems to me that they have as much healthy disrespect for formalized institutionalized progressivism as much as they have disrespect for formalized institutionalized neoliberalism. They’re just not interested, they’re really thinking about how they’ll be able to live their lives and thrive within them over the next few decades. 

RG: And one reason I was so interested to do this interview is because the Democratic Party has just been so good the last several cycles at just missing phenomena that are coming its way. If you go back to 2016, Bernie caught them completely off guard. The Clinton campaign, the DNC, the party itself just had no idea that he was going to resonate so much with Democratic voters until he was just right at Hillary’s heels. Which, okay, that’s one thing.

They also missed the Trump phenomenon, basically.

MW: Which is much more important and significant.

RG: And it’s one thing to miss the first Bernie Sanders campaign. They then got caught off guard by the second Bernie Sanders campaign. That, to me, was stunning, you know? It’s like, OK, fine, you got fooled once, no problem. But, 2020, he came back, almost shocked them into defeat again by the Biden campaign, managed to get all of that consolidation at the very end, and they hung on, but they had still missed the phenomenon.

And so, now I’m wondering, what other phenomena are they missing? And what do you think the party doesn’t understand about younger voters that is causing them to miss what’s going on here? 

MW: Well, there’s a lot in what you said. The first thing I want to address is how they missed the Trump phenomenon. This is extremely dangerous. Somebody was talking the other day about AOC saying that some of this drift rightward of the Biden administration is so dangerous. What they missed in 2016 is how angry people are at the fact that they’re living at the effect of an unjust economic system. And my fear is that they’re making the same mistake this time.

Sometimes when people get upset with my running, “You’re not taking seriously that fascists are at the door.” Excuse me, I’m the one who is taking most seriously the fascists are at the door. I’m the one who’s saying, coming to the American people at such a time as this and saying, basically, the economy is doing well, is an outrageously stupid agenda if we want to win in 2024.

What Bernie and Trump both did was that they validated people’s understandable rage. The difference, of course, was that Bernie meant it, and Bernie would’ve done something about it — about the economic conditions that are shackling people. So, they missed that, and it seems to me that they’re missing it this time as well. Because, for 80 percent of the American people, the idea that the economy is doing well is directly contradictory to their visceral experience on a daily basis.

However, if we look deeper into it, Ryan, is it that they missed it? Or it’s that they just don’t want to see it? It is inconvenient to their own power purposes and financial purposes for them to acknowledge it, because if they were to acknowledge it, they’d have to change their entire game plan. And so, it’s almost like white-knuckling; we can power our way through it. It’s not that we don’t see it, it’s that we can power our way through it.

So then you get to this additional — what I believe is — stupidity, lack of wisdom. Which is, if anybody in our own ranks wants to acknowledge it, as Bernie did in ‘16 and ‘20, we will suppress them, because even though they have such high popularity, even though what they are saying is aligned with the professed will of the majority of the American people, even though, theoretically, those things would actually expand our voting base, we don’t want it. Because we are interested in our club, and we’re going to just power through. And I think that’s dangerous for the Democrats winning in 2024, and much more significantly dangerous for our country. 

RG: And so, you and I talked briefly about this on Counterpoints when you were on this week, but I wanted to get your more expanded take here. So when I think about your campaign and the way that you’ve been catching on, I think about a couple of things. And one is that you are really running on and championing the Bernie Sanders agenda. Like, there’s a lot of similarities between your critique of the corporate autocracy and what you would hear from Bernie Sanders.

But, at the same time, you have this more holistic campaign that — and this is the more controversial point I want to get your take on — that, to me, feels like it’s tapping into some of the same energy, the same anxiety that very early Jordan Peterson, who has now become a kind of reactionary rightwing  phenomenon, but he wasn’t instantly coded as rightwing when he kind of burst onto the scene in the mid-2010s, with his whole 12 Rules For Life, and urging people to clean their room and get their act together, and that sort of thing. Now, he has channeled them in a different direction, but I feel like the media missed the phenomenon of Jordan Peterson, and missed kind of what it said about young people at the time that he could catch on in the way that he did. And I feel like you are speaking to that, that same kind of void, and speaking to that same anxiety, while also then coupling it with a more kind of social democratic Bernie Sanders style of politics that links the two together. That says that the answer is not to just become victims and blame whatever conspiracies are being put upon you by these Davos elites, it’s to actually collectively fight for this other agenda.

What’s your take on that read? 

MW: Well, Ryan, my career started long before Jordan Peterson’s did. Or, at least, in the public realm. So, a lot of the things that you are pointing to that Jordan Peterson was saying early in his career about how we do need to rise up within ourselves, qualities of our own personhood need to demonstrate greater maturity. That we’ve had long post-adolescence in our society because there was not the kind of coming of age for several generations that there had been for generations before us. I was talking about those things, and writing about those things for decades, actually, before Jordan Peterson was even speaking.

So, when he did start talking, it was very much within a realm of conversation that I had been speaking into for decades. I agree with you he has taken it — 

RG: On that point, what do you think made his approach take on a political valence, whereas yours was sort of proto-political? Like you said, you have been writing, philosophizing, thinking, talking in this way for decades, but it wasn’t really coded as politics as we understand it, the way that Peterson very quickly did become coded as a political actor rather than a kind of cultural or psychoanalytical actor.

MW: Well, I don’t know that much about his career. All I know is that, early on, I liked some of what he said, and later on I was horrified by the things that I heard him say. But what the trajectory was that took him from A to B, I don’t know. I think, oddly enough, on the right, there’s almost more openness to somebody talking outside the political boxes. This should not be the. When I was growing up, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, spoke in soulful terms. And today, at least among Democrats, there is often this distrust of anything that goes outside the box of this very secularized analysis of political dynamics. Even though, to any intelligent observer, it’s so obvious that’s not working. It’s not. That alone is not taking us where we need to go. 

So, I don’t know. You know, I’m a writer. I’ve been at this for a long time. There’s a level past which doesn’t really concern you what other people are saying, what other people are writing, what other people are doing, what’s happening in popular culture. I have my own career, and I’ve done my own writing, and the only person’s trajectory I really know much about is my own. 

RG: I guess what I mean, not on that trajectory, but what changed about our society is what I’m trying to get at, in the 2010s that enabled whatever he was doing to be understood as political rather than as kind of cultural.

MW: Well, he became specifically political.

RG: Yeah. Maybe he brought that in, yeah.

MW: Yeah. He brought it in, and people didn’t say, “how dare you, stay in your lane.” Because, in his world, they weren’t doing that. In my world, it’s like, when I started talking about political things, “Stay in your lane. How dare you.” Even though my first political book was published in 1998, and I wrote Politics of Love as a kind of compendium to my campaign the way all candidates do. Andrew Yang did everybody did. Kamala had a book. Pete had a book, I think, but only in my cases it’s that she’s doing it to sell books.

I mean, the left has its own mishigas. The left has its own smug arrogant dismissal of anything that isn’t the conversation they’ve already been having. And that isn’t officially sanctioned by their establishment leadership. It’s really sad to think that the independent thinkers are on the other side. 

RG: It does feel like if you read the comments on TikTok, on a lot of the videos that either you’ve posted or that have been posted by other people about you, you see a ton of people saying, “What I really like about her is that she’s willing to criticize both parties.” And that seems to earn trust in them. Is that what you mean about there being less space on the left for that sort of internal criticism? 

MW: There’s this codependent relationship that many Democrats have with the DNC that you don’t see Republicans have with the RNC. So, yes, this idea that — You see it right now with what’s happening with the president and the primary. You know, it’s like some voice on high of the democratic establishment leadership has decided we are going with Joe. I mean, that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen. The DNC, for instance, is supposed to stay in the background. You’re supposed to have an election, that’s what primaries are. Then the voters — hello — the voters decide who the candidate will be, and that’s when the DNC is supposed to come in.

But there’s been this decision made on high. A bunch of guys, what, smoking cigars like it’s a hundred years ago? They’ve decided that it’s going to be Biden. Clear the field, we’ll change the primary schedule if we have to, we’ll do whatever. And you can tell. And a lot of Democrats seem to be just falling in line as though the DNC knows better.

I don’t know how you can look at the last several years and say the DNC necessarily knows better. What are we talking about here? You know, I believe that if the DNC  kept their fingers off the scale in 2016, I don’t know who would’ve won. I don’t know if Hillary would’ve won or Bernie would’ve won. It would’ve been probably a close contest. One of them would’ve won the primary, the primaries in 2016. But, whomever it was, if Democrats had all gotten the sense, well, this was a fair race, then I don’t think Trump would’ve ever been president.

RG: Yeah.

MW: How can you claim to be the party that is the conduit for the protection of democracy if you yourself are so wary of the democratic process? And I’ll tell you something: candidate suppression is a form of voter suppression. If you’re going to make it clear that you’re going to do everything possible to keep someone’s voice from being in the mix through your influence on mainstream media and so forth because you find it inconvenient, that’s a form of candidate suppression.

And I think that the fact that I’m willing to name that — You know, somebody said to me — I saw it online, I think — somebody saying about me, “She’s committing political suicide.” And I laughed, I guffawed, because what political career do I have to kill? You know?

So I’m not coming at it from what you’re supposed to say. You know, a writer, and people in the careers like mine, we don’t wake up in the morning and ask ourselves what we are supposed to say. Including what’s supposed to sell a book, what’s supposed to get people at my lectures? That’s not the career space I come from.

[Intercept mid-show theme music.]

RG: I wanted to play for you a clip that’s been circulating on TikTok and get your reaction to it.

Marianne Williamson: People these days talk about how traumatized they are by the Trump phenomenon. “I’m just so traumatized by it.” Do you think the people who walked across the bridge at Selma were not traumatized? Everybody’s saying, “Oh, I’m so anxious. It’s just, this whole thing has me so anxious.” Really? What about those women standing up in Iran right now? We need to toughen up, buttercups. Everybody in this room, however pushed down we are, it is nothing compared to how push down the Iranians are right now, and they are showing up.

So I think we have gotten to a point where we’re coddling our neurosis a little too much right now. We need to say, meditate, take a shower, pray in the morning, and kick ass in the afternoon. This is not to minimize the pain. Sometimes you call your girlfriends, you call the people in your life. “Can I share my pain?” And then that call is over. And the person who loves you on that call says, “Promise me you’re going to get out there this afternoon and show them what you got.”

RG: I was intrigued to see this one circulating, because, to me, it’s one of the clearest expressions of you linking the collective politics of struggle against the villains that you identify with the way that that struggle can then kind of help you yourself, emancipate you from the anxieties that you’re facing. First, when you saw that circulating, were you like, “Great, this is the kind of thing I do want out there?” Were you surprised that that clip resonated?

MW: No. Listen, it’s the kind of thing I’ve been saying for years, like I said, I’ve been saying for years that we had a long post-adolescence. This sort of pathologizing every heartbreak, do you know what I’m saying? I’ve been talking about this for years, that sometimes, you know, shit happens. Sometimes life is hard, but this is how we grow up. I’ve been particularly concerned with people in their twenties. I say to these young people all the time: the twenties are hard, but they’re not a mental illness.

Individuating, becoming mature, evolving, becoming real grownups, becoming responsible for your country, for your democracy, for your family, for your planet. It’s a maturation process. We all go through it, and it’s not always easy. So, in order to answer the challenges of our times, we’re going to have to do more than do certain things differently; we’re going to have to be certain things differently.

And so, I’ve been saying for a long time, the fact that that was picked up, it’s interesting. That was the Chicago Humanities Festival where I was in conversation with Nina Turner on stage. So it was interesting when I saw you play that the other day, but it’s the kind of thing I’ve been saying for a very long time.

You know, in the book that I published called “Healing the Soul of America” in 1998, I wrote a lot about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. And Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence which, then Dr. King had gone to India, he studied those principles, and he brought them back to the United States for application to the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. The essence of nonviolent philosophy is that who you are is as important as what you do because, in the words of Gandhi, the end is inherent in the means.

Now, if you look at just traditional political activism, you might say the end justifies the means. Gandhi said, no, the end is inherent in the means. Or, another way of putting it is, everything you do is a reflection of the consciousness with which we do it. If we want to fundamentally change the civilization, we’re going to have to fundamentally change. And we can’t just be wimpy, we can’t just be — you know, I’ve said it for so long — we can’t just identify the problems in our past, we have to identify with the problem solvers. 

Don’t just look at abolition; think about what it had to have been in those days to be abolitionist. Don’t just look at women’s suffrage; think what you had to be in those days to be a women’s suffragist. Don’t just look at the civil rights movement; think what you had be to be in the civil rights movement. Let’s not be the first generation to wimp out on doing what it takes to put our country back on track when we have swerved.

Now, this is slightly tangential: did you read the [inaudible] book that came out a few months ago about Lincoln called “[And] There Was Light”?

RG: No. Uh-uh.

MW: OK. So, one of the things I came to understand from reading that book is the difference between the provocateur and the activist and the politician. So, the provocateur, take something like slavery, OK? So, the provocateurs were the John Browns, the provocateurs were the people yelling about slavery long before there was any popular listening for it. Just screaming and yelling about how wrong it was, how bad it was, at a time when hardly anyone would listen, much less embrace the message. And so, the provocateur is willing to take a lot of hits and not very much approval, because you’re yelling it into the wind at a time when very few want to hear it.

RG: Yeah.

MW: OK. But they make the space for the phase of the activist. That space having been open, the activist can come along and actually do all of the traditional activism necessary to start — not just planting the seeds, because the provocateur planted them— but in order to start really building a field of political possibility.

The politician comes in after that. And if you look at Lincoln, Lincoln was not early to the abolitionist movement, even though there’s a famous line, where he had said early in his life, after he had seen many people who became abolitionists had some personal experience. They saw slave trading, they saw enslaved people in chains, something that really had this profound impact on them, the kind of amazing grace phenomenon. He is quoted as having said when he was young about slavery, If I ever get a chance to hit it, I’m going to hit it hard.

But he remained, you know, in the Missouri Compromise, he was trying to hit a compromise, it took a while. But he is the one. First you had the provocateur, then you have the activist, and then you have someone like a Lincoln — Roosevelt was a similar character — who are able to come in, say, OK, it’s time. And they can harness the consensus of enough people. That’s their role. They’re not the early provocateur or even necessarily the activists, but they’re the ones who bring in a different phase of possibility, because of their ability to work with a population in order to bring the change into manifestation.

That fascinates me, the different phases that we go through, and I think that we’re at a fascinating phase right now. I don’t think Americans — I think there’s a consensus of Americans who are no longer in denial about what trouble this country is in. And I think a lot of that comes from these young people. They’re not buying the illusion that things are better than they are. They understand. 

And I think Covid had something to do with this, too, for a lot of people, Ryan. That they really saw how the system operates, and how many of the institutions that they might have thought would protect them at such a time made it clear, we would rather you drop dead than in any way undercut our financial bottom line.

So, now the issue is, how do we take this moment and turn it into an inflection moment? Because I don’t think that we are going to remain where we are. Things will not remain where they are. We’re either going down or we’re going up. We’re either in a downward spiral or we are going to come together and create the energy for an upward spiral. And I believe that young people are heading that movement. There’s an audacity and a rambunctiousness that we desperately need in the service of justice, and peace, and true prosperity, and democracy, in this country.

RG: And, as you think about it in those terms, how do you think of your own role? What is it that made you want to move from the activist to the politician? 

MW: Well, I think that because I come from the role of spirituality, and religious pursuit and interest, and a kind of non-denominational clergy of sorts. The non-denominational — or institutional clergy, for that matter — kind of hovers right above what’s going on. And you see it from a larger perspective, so you have a freedom. If you’re on a podium where people are expecting a spiritual or religious conversation, or bema, or pulpit, you are allowed to speak in terms of prophetic vision.

Look at Martin Luther King. You know, when I was younger, I read every biography of Martin Luther King that I could get my hands on, and I remember what they all said. They said, on the third Sunday of January in 1960, Martin Luther King went from a religious leader who spoke on political terms to a political leader, a social and political movement leader, who spoke from the space of spiritual understanding. One of my favorite quotes of Martin Luther King is: Any religion that purports to care about the soul of a man, but doesn’t address the economic conditions that oppress him, and the political conditions that strangle him, is a moribund religion awaiting burial.

And I might have gotten the words a little bit messed up there, but that’s the gist of it. And I have felt that same yearning in my heart. At a certain point, you know, there’s no religious or spiritual tradition anywhere that gives any of us a pass on addressing the suffering of other sentient beings. So, at a certain point, for me, it was simply a matter of coming out of the pulpit, or out of the library, or the book publishing, out of the bookstore, onto the streets, in a way. And I think that, at this point, electoral politics is an aspect of the streets. 

RG: So, in order to co-opt the support that Bernie Sanders had, the Democratic Party establishment co-opted a decent amount of his agenda. Not as much as some of his supporters would’ve liked, but enough to kind of bring people toward Biden in the November 2020 election. And so if, let’s say you were a political consultant who’s been hired by the DNC who has noticed that you’re doing extraordinarily well on TikTok and with young voters, and they’re nervous they’re going to be caught off guard in 2024 like they were by Bernie in 2016 and 2020.

They say, OK, what do we do to blunt her momentum? How do we co-opt, how do we steal enough of her agenda that we can bring her people in? What advice would you give to them if you were put in that situation? 

MW: [Laughs.] The whole thing is sort of ridiculous, isn’t it? I will tell you this: they have this woman on TikTok now that they’ve sent out, I call her “fake tattoo girl.” She’s a girl who obviously has fake tattoos, so it’s like, sent from central casting to look like a TikTok influencer. She didn’t even have a TikTok account previous to this. So, she’s out there, she’s the designated one to make it, like I’m this awful person that nobody should listen to. So that’s what they’re doing right now, is trying to — 

RG: That’s amazing. How’s fake TikTok girl doing? 

MW: Oh, she’s getting a lot of people, she’s getting a lot of people. Yeah, yeah. Of course, I want to go out there and talk to fake TikTok girl, but I’m told that I should not do that.

If people, if they really wanted to absorb some of the sort of moral components of my message, they would be looking to Reverend Barber. Just as the economics of Bernie Sanders have been so influential to me, Reverend Barber, and the lineage, the spiritual, religious, and political lineage of Reverend Barber has meant a lot to me as well. I think we have in our midst truly a great genius, a religious genius, and intellectual genius. He’s just amazing. But, you know, he’s a man. So. 

RG: And while I’ve got you here, I also wanted to ask you to respond to the scrutiny that you’ve gotten in the press as you’ve kind of risen a little bit, and particularly as — I think the article was in Politico talking about your performance as a boss. You had a bunch of former staff of yours saying that they didn’t like working for you. That you were too tough on staff, basically. 

Have you been hearing about that from people on the ground? And how do you respond to them, and how, how would you respond to those claims?

MW: Is that scrutiny, really, or is that just smear and hit? Which is not to say that none of it’s true. It’s not to say I haven’t gotten angry at the office or all of that. I mean, I have, at times, gotten angry at the office, as many people have, including political leaders. Certainly including the men who run Washington. That’s not to justify times that I’ve raised my voice or had a tantrum because work wasn’t done or whatever.

I think people with the eye for understanding what those things are about knows what a hit piece is. And, you know, I’ve been a bitch at the office at times. And, you know, if that’s the worst they have on me, I should be OK.

RG: And where does the campaign go from here? Are you seeing the support that you’ve generated among young people translate into small contributions in the same that Sanders did? The thing that really helped his campaign take off, as I’m sure you remember, I think he raised something like a million bucks in the first 24 hours of his campaign back in 2015, which then gives you the chance to hire up, and strategize, and travel in a real way. Are you seeing that happen yet?

MW: No, I haven’t seen anything like that. And one of the disappointments to me has been, how many people on the left, Ryan, have actually been out there saying, don’t send her money? It’s unbelievable to me. And, you know, we have raised enough that I’m able to have a staff that’s holding together what we’re doing right now. I wish we did have a million dollars in the bank, I wish I could staff up much more. Because, really that is what it’s about, you know? It really is. How many people do you have on your social media team, and your digital team, and on the ground in South Carolina, in Nevada, in Michigan, in New Hampshire, and so forth. It really is about staff, about the people who work for you.

But we have enough for now. I hope that more people will realize, in a campaign like mine, obviously not backed by corporate dollars, small donations are everything. I hope that more people, and particularly more young people, more people who believe in the message of this campaign and realize that or who feel for themselves that this is a message that should be out there. I hope they don’t underestimate how much a $3 donation can make a difference. It’s those $3, those $5, particularly people who are, like, recurring $5 a month.

It doesn’t have to be the 3300-dollar donors, or the thousand dollars, or the 500 or a hundred or, or even 50. You know, that $25, that $10, that $5 that $3. That’s what fuels a campaign like this, and I hope that more people will get into the habit of financial giving.

Obviously, the fact that this is about money is itself the problem. The undue influence of money on our political system is the cancer underlying all the other cancers. But what you have is all that dark money, all those multi millions given. Dark money, corporate money; you have a system of legalized bribery in this country. The only way to override that is through the power of the people, and that has got to include, at this time, the dollars of the people. And Bernie certainly demonstrated that this can be done. He raised tremendous amounts of money, and they were small-dollar donations.

So, no, I mean, between what the mainstream, you know, the invisibilization by the mainstream media, the hits by the DNC and the establishment, the fairy dust about me. I’m wacky. I’m mean, I can’t — They can’t make up their mind. Am I wacky fairy princess who just walks around like this? Or am I some awful mean person, that bitch, you know? So they seem to flip back and forth between the two.

But, the point is that those caricatures and those mischaracterizations do have an effect, you know? They throw dust into people’s eyes. But on TikTok and elsewhere there are more and more people who are saying, I’m interested in her policies, I’m interested in her policies, I’m interested in her analysis of this country and where we can go. If you’re going to tell me she’s got a spirituality that you don’t like, you know?

Ryan, I say to myself all the time, the president has stood up in church. He’s a Catholic, right? And he has stood up in church, and how many thousands of times has he affirmed his faith in the virgin birth? Now, nobody thinks the president doesn’t know where babies come from. So, when people speak in metaphysical terms, this doesn’t mean that they don’t understand how the world works.

And then, on the other hand, yeah, you know? I’m sorry if I’ve ever been in the office — which I think I have been, I clearly have been, actually — but that person described in articles like that? No. So, I’m not a perfect person, but I think that, you know, I’m not running for sainthood. I’m running for president.

RG: The point about the there being less fundraising, and people on the left, encouraging people not to give, is fascinating political development. And I wonder if some of it has to do with the way that the economy of the media has reoriented itself in the eight years or so since Bernie Sanders ran. Back in 2015 or 2016 there wasn’t the same type of creator economy, where you had so many YouTubers, podcasters, Substackers, and other kinds of independent journalists who were really relying on people giving them $5 a month so that they could maintain their voice in the public square, and maintain their independence from corporate media.

But, today, it’s almost as if the kind of media that ecosystem that has developed that supports left candidates, they’re now in competition with those candidates for that same money, those same small dollars. And I wonder if that’s — I’m just thinking through this now — but I wonder if that is going to play a role in the future about how this develops. Like, it could be, unfortunately, in the interests of people to tell their audience, don’t give money to these people. 

MW: Well, yeah. I love how all these anti-capitalists act like such capitalists. This is my brand, right? This is my brand, and I don’t want to, you know, I’m protecting my brand. It’s quite illuminating, it’s quite eye-opening. And I think, also, many people on the left when it comes to me seem to resent that I didn’t enter the room through the same door that they did. I didn’t kiss the rings that they think — You know, there’s one leftwing popular voice, and I heard him on a major platform the other day say Marianne Williamson doesn’t know anything about the working people, she doesn’t know anything about the working class.

This is a man whose entire career has been being a professor at Ivy League Colleges, which he attended. I spent six years on the pulpit of a church in Warren, Michigan. Maybe he would like to look up that church in Warren, Michigan, where I spoke every Sunday to 3,500 people. And, during the week, every day of the week, was working with those individuals and their families. And he has the audacity to get on a left-wing platform and talk about how I know nothing about the working people. How does he know what I’ve done with my life? How does he know who I’ve been with or what I’ve done?

But, yeah, it’s been pretty eye-opening to see how many people who I know are aligned with me as I am aligned with them on political issues who find me not up to their standards, even though they have no idea who I am.

But, whatever. You know, it’s funny to me. A lot of people who would think of themselves as not easily disinformed sure have been disinformed when it comes to me.

RG: Well, a fascinating new world that we’re in. And, Marianne, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. 

MW: I appreciate it, Ryan. Thank you.

[End credits.]

RG: That was Marianne Williamson, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of The Intercept.

Our producer is Jose Olivares. Our supervising producer is Laura Flynn. The show is mixed by William Stanton. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Roger Hodge is the Intercept’s editor-in-chief, and I’m Ryan Grim, DC Bureau Chief of The Intercept.

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