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Marianna Williamson at a Penn Justice Democrats event on Tuesday. Credit: Jesse Zhang

Penn Justice Democrats hosted 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson at an event on Tuesday evening. 

Approximately 100 attendees gathered in Houston Hall’s Bodek Lounge for the event. Williamson spoke to the crowd for about an hour and then took questions from attendees. At the event, Williamson focused on what she called a sense of political “despair” in the country and the power of love and spirituality in political changemaking. 

Williamson, a nationally acclaimed author of 13 books, is also a progressive political activist and founder of several nonprofit organizations. Her work centers around the role of spirituality in activism. 

Williamson used historical comparisons and her belief in prayer to frame her arguments at the event. She referenced the success of past social movements — such as abolition and women's suffrage — to make the case for current societal change, emphasizing that it only takes a few people to start a movement. 

“There are people in this country who know how to make things right. You can look at any [policy] area and there are people who know what to do. But the people who know what to do to turn this into a sustainable future are not people who represent short-term profit maximization for the corporate interests that run our government,” Williamson said. 

At the event, Williamson also criticized the Democratic Party. 

"The Democrats who often say, 'well I'm really sorry how tough this is,' try to alleviate the pain on the periphery, but are not willing to challenge all the forces that make that suffering inevitable," she said. 

Annenberg School for Communication Ph.D. candidate Baird Howland said he has followed Williamson's career for years and decided to attend the event after seeing a poster for it.

“I always appreciated Marianne Williamson's perspective and also found her a bizarre but intriguing political character. So I wanted to hear what she had to say, because she's probably running for president [in 2024], or testing the waters,” Howland said. 

Williamson previously ran for president in 2020 as a Democratic Party candidate. Her platform centered around pushing for reparations for Black Americans, a “Medicare for All” health care system, and rallying support for the Green New Deal. Following the termination of her campaign, she endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. 

Howland added that, despite Williamson’s late arrival, her presence kept the attention of audience members. 

“She was late. But the second she walked into the room, everyone became quiet before she was introduced or even took the stage,” Howland said. “[Williamson] has a certain presence.”

Throughout the evening, Williamson rallied attendees to “meditate in the morning, kick ass in the afternoon.”

Penn Justice Dems Outreach Chair and College senior Tara Yazdan Panah said that many of the club’s current executive board are longtime admirers of Williamson’s work, which is a large reason why they wanted to host her for this event. 

“We really wanted to bring a prominent member of the progressive leftist community to Penn's campus,” Yazdan Panah said. “She's been an inspiration to a lot people on our board and in the organization in general. We felt like it was the perfect opportunity to invite her and hear what she had to say about spirituality and politics.”

Noah Ryan, College senior and Penn Justice Dems member, said he liked how religiosity and love were prominent themes in Williamson's speech. 

“I think oftentimes leftist discussions tend to be very secular because we support the separation of church and state, so having that spiritual aspect [of her speech] was very illuminating,” Ryan said.   

College first year Carey Salvin said she remembered being “very amused” while watching Williamson in the 2020 presidential debates. Salvin added that she attended the event in hopes of hearing Williamson speak about her positions on education and health care access.

“She ended up speaking a lot about the role of faith and spirituality in modern politics [at the event],” Salvin said. “I didn’t exactly agree with her views specifically pertaining to how pervasive spirituality and faith are in current American politics, but still found it very interesting."