Who Is Marianne Williamson, 2020 Presidential Candidate and Also Oprah's Spiritual Advisor?

"We have to fall in love again with what this country can mean."

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The 2020 presidential election season is in full swing, and it feels like every day a new person announces their intentions to run for president (or in the midst of "exploratory committees," a.k.a. a candidate is running, but hasn't confirmed yet). One candidate, however, is less political, and more spiritual: Marianne Williamson, author, activist, self-help guru, and Friend Of Oprah—a tier of status, not a person—has announced her candidacy for President, as a Democrat.

Williamson, whose previous run for the seat of California's 33rd congressional district as an Independent in 2014 was endorsed by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, as well as actors and celebrities like Laura Dern and Kim Kardashian, isn't like most candidates running today—mainly because she's not a politician. But here's everything you should know about her.

She had a spiritual awakening.

Williamson was born in Houston, Texas, to an immigration lawyer and homemaker. Despite her books using spiritual language from a lot of religions like Christianity and Buddhism, Williamson was raised Jewish and still considers herself to be a practicing Jew, despite the Christianity-tinged vernacular she uses.

She spent a long time before her spiritual awakening looking for some type of sign or goal, until she discovered the book that would shape her career going forward: A Course in Miraclesa gargantuan three-volume religious work that basically says that God's love is key and that accepting and surrendering to God's plan will lead to miracles. What Williamson learned in the book stayed with her: "I wasn’t the happiest person, that’s for sure. Kind of muddling through my twenties at the time. When I first saw the book, the language was way too intense for me. But when it appeared in my life a year later, I was drawn to it like to some mysterious force. Which it is, of course!"

You've probably seen her quotes on Instagram and Pinterest.

Williamson has written 12 books, including career guide The Law of Compensation and the spiritual weight loss manual A Course in Weight Loss: Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight. Williamson's most famous quote comes from her first book, New York Times bestseller A Return to Love: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” It's sometimes misattributed to Nelson Mandela, but nope—it's all Marianne!

A Return to Love was published in 1992, and Williamson shot to stardom. Oprah heavily endorsed the book, claiming she experienced “157 miracles” after she reading the book, which lead to the book selling an additional one million copies. Here she is with Oprah to the right of Dr. Oz:

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Williamson has maintained a close relationship with Oprah throughout the years and appeared as a regular guest on her talk show. She has often been called Oprah's spiritual advisor, which doesn't sound too shabby.

She was an early AIDS activist.

Williamson moved to Los Angeles in 1983 and began teaching the works of A Course In Miracles at Philosophical Research Society, a center for metaphysical study. The self-proclaimed “bitch for God” would find a massive gay following, particularly amongst HIV and AIDS patients felt ostracized by society and mainstream religion. Williamson held weekly support groups for these people at the Center for Living, an organization that gave HIV-positive patients counseling in the first days of the AIDS crisis.

”Western medicine had nothing to offer,” Williamson told LA Weekly in 2014. “Organized religion was silent for quite a while...And there was this young woman in Los Feliz talking about a God who loves you no matter what.”

In 1989, she also founded the charity Project Angel Food, which delivers meals directly to the homes of HIV/AIDS patients. According to Los Angeles Blade, Project Angel Food has since expanded to help people with differing ailments, and has given away more than 11 million meals.

Her political platform is pretty fascinating.

“We have to fall in love again with what this country can mean,” Williamson said in her campaign announcement video. “We need to embrace it, we need to devote ourselves to it, and then bequeath to our children as other generations have done to us.”

Williamson has been very vocal about her political views, from believing in reparations for Black Americans, comparable to the German government offering billions of dollars in compensation to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, to her ideas about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is also a passionate advocate for children, promising to create a cabinet-level Department of Childhood and Youth to address the often-ignored trauma of kids across the country.

When she first ran for office in 2014, Eric Bauman, the LA County Democratic Party chair, wasn't sure that she was a viable candidate for the position, "She has some very unusual beliefs about the world, a cult following, but she's not a credible candidate. She's done a lot of work helping people heal, but that's not preparation to be in Congress."

Well, the political landscape has changed drastically since then, so Williamson may have a better shot than we think. With many Americans dissatisfied with the current state of the government and its elected officials, we're seeing more voters move away from conventional candidates and towards hopefuls with platforms that are radically different from anything they've seen before. From her thorough plans for racial reconciliation in the United States to her mastery of political memes, Williamson could be an option for voters in search of something new to align themselves with.

Now we know more about her platform.

Williamson's running on a platform of peace (no, really: She wants the U.S. to create a Department of Peace "as the first step in dismantling our systemically entrenched perpetuation of violence."). She's also being linked to Oprah as she continues her campaign—in other words, it's the next best thing to having Oprah as president, basically.

She's been branding herself as a wellness candidate—which could either be tapping into a huge cultural zeitgeist or taking advantage of bogus science, depending on who you ask. In some cases, that's made her a smidge controversial; Williamson once described that vaccines as "Orwellian" and said that it shouldn't be mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children (she later apologized and dialed back). She also supports massive overhauls to our current education and health insurance system through free higher education for everyone and universal health coverage.

As part of her dedication to wellness, Williamson wants to bring real change to the American food industry. "A Williamson administration will support local, small family farmers and ranchers far more than we currently do," declares her website. "My presidency will support regenerative, sustainable agricultural practices that not only have highly profitable yields, but can also help turn the tide on climate change." Besides moving towards more sustainable food options, Williamson's plans for revitalizing our current climate involve re-establishing "humanity's spiritual connection to nature" by completely shifting away from fossil fuel energy and actually reversing (not just limiting) much of the manmade damage done to the environment.

Williamson's about to take these big, sweeping goals to the debate stage. How will she measure up against candidates like Elizabeth Warren, who also has big ideas on top of the political experience to back it up? Williamson's not intimidated in the least: "I want to be president in order to do everything I can to make it easier for everyone to spread their wings and soar to get their God-given potential…I’ve helped people do that in their individual lives, and I believe I could help our country do it."

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Amanda Mitchell

Amanda Mitchell is a writer and podcaster with bylines at Marie Claire, OprahMag, Allure, Byrdie, Stylecaster, Bon Appetit, and more. Her work exists at the apex of beauty, pop culture, and absurdity. A human Funfetti cake, she watches too much television, and her favorite season is awards season. You can read more of her work at amandaelizabethmitchell.com or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lochnessmanda.