On November 15, 2018, Williamson announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee in a video in which she said that there was a "miracle in this country in 1776 and we need another one [that would require] a co-creative effort, an effort of love and a gift of love, to our country and hopefully to our world."
Where I'm coming from is not that I have a 'Black agenda.' I have an American agenda". [...] The reason I want reparations, as opposed to simple race-based policies, [is because] race-based policies leave open the question whose fault it is that this gap even exists. And race-based policies provide justice, but it doesn't provide the power that capital provides, and that is really what we're talking about here. We're talking about an economic gap that existed in 1865, that was actually increased with another 100 years. So after 200 years of slavery, you had another 100 years of institutionalized violence against black people in America. My point –– reparations carry more than the power of purely financial restitution. They carry moral force. We need to deal with these things on a deeper, more transformative level. This should not be considered "cuckoo." This should not be considered "wacky."
Williamson was born in Houston, Texas, in 1952. She is the youngest of three children of Samuel "Sam" Williamson, a World War II veteran and immigration lawyer, and Sophie Ann (Kaplan), a homemaker and community volunteer. Her older brother, Peter, became an immigration lawyer. Her late sister, Elizabeth "Jane", was a teacher. Her father, and maternal grandparents, were Russian Jewish immigrants. Her grandfather changed his surname from Vishnevetsky to Williamson after seeing "Alan Williamson Ltd" on a train.
Marianne Deborah Williamson (born July 8, 1952) is an American author, spiritual leader, politician, and activist. She has written 13 books, including four New York Times number one bestsellers in the "Advice, How To, and Miscellaneous" category. She is the founder of Project Angel Food, a volunteer food delivery program that serves home-bound people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. She is also the co-founder of the Peace Alliance, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization supporting peace-building projects. She later received national attention as a result of her frequent appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was known as Oprah's "spiritual adviser."
Williamson attended Houston ISD's Bellaire High School. After graduating, she spent two years studying theater and philosophy at Pomona College in Claremont, California, where she was a roommate of film producer Lynda Obst. In 1973, Williamson—an active antiwar protester—dropped out of college and lived "a nomadic existence" during what she calls "her wasted decade." She moved to New Mexico, where she took classes at the University of New Mexico and lived in a geodesic dome with her boyfriend. She broke up with her boyfriend a year later and moved to Austin, Texas, where she took classes at the University of Texas. After leaving Texas, she went to New York City, intending to pursue a career as a cabaret singer, but got distracted by "bad boys and good dope." Vanity Fair wrote that Williamson "spent her twenties in a growing state of existential despair". In New York, Williamson suffered from deep depression following the end of a relationship. She has said that this experience gave rise to a desire to spend the rest of her life helping people.
In 1975, Helen Schucman published A Course in Miracles, a curriculum for spiritual transformation. Schucman was a clinical psychologist and research psychologist who was a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University from 1958 to 1976. After being in a long-term "stressful professional environment," and seeking a way to address the contention, Schucman began to have a series of inner experiences that she understood as visions, dreams, heightened imagery, and an "inner voice" that reportedly revealed itself to her as Jesus.
In 1979 Williamson returned to Houston, where she ran a metaphysical bookstore coffeeshop, sang Gershwin standards in a nightclub, got married and divorced "almost immediately," and underwent a "spiritual surrender".
Williamson was briefly married in 1979 to a Houston businessman. She said the marriage lasted "for a minute and a half."
In 1983, Williamson had what she has called a "flash" to close the coffeeshop and move to Los Angeles. She said she felt the city would be welcoming to her because of its willingness to "start new conversations." She made the move with $1,000 in her pocket. She got an apartment in Hollywood. Her roommate was 17-year-old Laura Dern, who noted that Williamson "held prayer groups in our living room." Williamson got a job at the Philosophical Research Society. As part of their lecture series, she started speaking about A Course in Miracles as "a self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy." Her lectures were grounded in her belief that by consulting the Course, every problem can be solved, and that miracles are possible through a change in perspective. According to Williamson, "All that a miracle is is a shift in perception from fear to love. It’s simply the notion that when your world view changes, your behavior changes".
In 1987, during lunch with a close friend who was struggling with breast cancer, Williamson's friend expressed a need for help: "She said that for years she had been looking for someone to help her heal and now she needed someone to help her die." This request inspired Williamson to create the Center for Living.
On January 28, 2019, Williamson officially launched her presidential campaign, in front of 2,000 people in Los Angeles, and appointed Maurice Daniel––who served alongside Donna Brazile in Dick Gephardt's campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1988––as her national campaign manager, with her campaign committee, "Marianne Williamson for President", officially filed on February 4.
In 1989, Williamson launched Project Angel Food to support HIV/AIDS patients. The program was operated by The Centers for Living, but became so successful that its name recognition outgrew its parent company. By 1992 it had raised over $1.5 million and was delivering nearly 400 hot meals a day to home-bound AIDS patients in Los Angeles. Williamson deemed the demand for the organization's services to be a positive sign about HIV/AIDS:
In 1989, with another $50,000 from Geffen, Williamson opened another Center for Living in New York, but it was hampered by conflict between staff and the board over Williamson's management style, which an unnamed former associate described as "very controlling." There was also a rift because, while the Los Angeles Center welcomed Williamson's use of prayer in her teachings and the use of the word "God", the more secular New York Center rebuked it.
In 1990, she gave birth to a daughter, India Emmaline. India pursued a doctorate in history at Goldsmiths College in London.
In October 1991, Williamson officiated at the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky. She said that derisive publicity of the wedding harmed her credibility, as she was labeled "Guru to the Glitterati."
Williamson's looks have often been referenced in press about her. Martin Gardner of Skeptical Inquirer called her a "sexy little guru" in 1992. Simon Sebag Montefiore of Psychology Today called her a "highly charged packet of sexuality." Zack Munson of the Washington Examiner said Williamson "is tall, brunette, beautiful, and quite squarely put together." Mark Leibovich of the New York Times wrote that Williamson "looks amazing for 61, in that well-moisturized-L.A.-famous-person kind of way." Katherine Miller of Buzzfeed called Williamson "striking at 66."
Williamson resigned from Project Angel Food in March 1992 amid infighting, two months after the board fired executive director and gay activist Steve Schulte, with some speculating that Williamson—who had been open about her wanting him gone—was responsible for the firing. Schulte, who had been the Center's third executive director in five years, was well-liked among the employees because he lobbied for salary increases, but clashed with Williamson over the operational approach to running the organization. His firing led a majority of the remaining employees to call for Williamson's resignation, his reinstatement, the replacement of the entire board, and unionization if Williamson remained. Stephen Bennett, a consultant hired to assess the situation, determined that there were more paid staff on hand than needed, but with a union vote pending, Bennett refused to lay employees off. It was determined that the best option was for Williamson to resign.
At the height of her popularity, in 1998, Williamson sold her $2.7 million home. She decided to stop teaching and join the ministry. She said, "I had a lot going on in my life. I just felt I had to leave. I had a baby." Williamson said that becoming a pastor was a way "to get dirt in her fingers again"—"to experience the day-to-day lives of hundreds of people"—and would be helpful in her work as a spiritual guide.
In 1998 Williamson co-founded the non-profit Global Renaissance Alliance (GSA) with Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch. The organization established a network of "citizen salons" to pray for national growth, peace and liberal causes.
Williamson resigned from the Church Renaissance Unity Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship in 2003 amid speculation that she otherwise would have been fired. Upon leaving the church, Williamson said of the experience:
In 2004 the GSA's name was changed to The Peace Alliance and given a new mandate focused on grassroots education and advocacy organization with the intent of increasing U.S. government support for peace-building approaches to domestic and international conflicts. The Peace Alliance taught peace activists how to lobby their congressional representatives. Williamson said of the need for this work:
The Peace Alliance seeks the establishment of a U.S. Department of Peace. In 2005 Williamson traveled to Washington to help Congressman Dennis Kucinich's effort to establish the department.
Williamson has called for the establishment of a Department of Peace to expand global diplomacy, mediation, and educational and economic development. She supported the creation of such a department in 2005, backing efforts by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, to try to establish it.
In 2006, a Newsweek poll named her one of the 50 most influential baby boomers.
In 2008, during the financial crisis, Williamson lost two of her homes in the Detroit metro area, valued at nearly $3 million, to foreclosure.
Following her departure, congregation members wrote to local newspapers voicing their support of Williamson. Williamson remained a guest minister at the church. She moved back to Los Angeles in 2009.
In 2010 Williamson launched "Sister Giant", a series of conferences to "start a new conversation about transformational politics" and encourage more women to run for office: Williamson saw herself as a "cheerleader," supporting women who had never been politically involved, on the campaign level, but who might be considering, 'Why not me?'"
In 2012, Yale University's Women’s Campaign School—an independent, nonpartisan, issue-neutral political campaign training and leadership program hosted at Yale Law School—partnered with the series, which focused on how to better address many social issues, including child poverty, campaign finance reform, and high incarceration rates
During Williamson's presidential campaign, several excerpts of her past comments have conflated her skepticism of the pharmaceutical industry's trustworthiness with an embrace of anti-vaccination dogma. As a result, she has been accused of being "anti-medicine" and "anti-science." She denies such accusations, saying they "could not be further from the truth." But critics points to Williamson's January 2012 interview on her radio show, "Living Miraculously," with Gwen Olsen, a 15-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry who implied that she personally believed antidepressants could be dangerous and linked to autism. Critics also cite a podcast interview with Russell Brand in which Williamson, while speaking about vaccine exemptions, "glibly" described the process by which vaccines are mandated as "Orwellian" and likened the debate about vaccination mandates to the abortion debate. She later apologized, saying she "misspoke," and that the comments erroneously made her "sound as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines."
In 2013, Williamson reported having assets estimated to be valued between $1 million and $5 million (not including personal residences).
In 2014 Williamson ran as an Independent for California's 33rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was praised as a "tireless" campaigner but criticized for not articulating specifics in her plans. Her supporters deemed her lack of plans a strength and said she was not a "made-to-order candidate" who gave "lip service."
In 2014, Williamson unsuccessfully ran as an independent to represent California's 33rd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.
Williamson supports gun control, and has described the issue as one personal to her. On November 4, 2018, she gave a passionate keynote address to several hundred Muslim and Jewish women at the Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom conference in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, eight days after 11 Jews were murdered at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue:
On January 9, 2019, she announced her campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 United States presidential election. She suspended her campaign on January 10, 2020, a few days after laying off her campaign staff. She later endorsed Bernie Sanders at a rally in Austin, Texas on February 23, 2020.
On January 19, 2019, while visiting New Hampshire, Williamson said that she had "received enough positive energy to make me feel I should take the next step," and subsequently hired Brent Roske to lead her operation in Iowa.
As of August 15, 2019, Williamson is one of 12 Democratic presidential candidates who have submitted answers to the Council on Foreign Relations's "Election 2020 Questions."
On October 18, 2019, Hillary Clinton suggested Russians were "grooming" Tulsi Gabbard to be a third-party candidate who would help Trump win reelection through the spoiler effect (though Clinton was in fact referring to Republicans, not Russians). Williamson defended Gabbard, saying, "The Democratic establishment has got to stop smearing women it finds inconvenient! The character assassination of women who don’t toe the party line will backfire."
On January 2, 2020, after missing several fundraising targets, Williamson announced that she would have to continue her run without campaign staff. On January 10, Williamson announced the end of her campaign and pledged to support the Democratic nominee.