War, poverty, racism and “exploding voter suppression” anger 2020 presidential aspirant Marianne Williamson.
One word that didn’t frighten her Saturday during a campaign stop in Maryville? Socialism.
“I think of myself as a capitalist with a conscience,” Williamson said. “What’s supposed to scare me about socialism, the free health care or the free college?”
Disenfranchisement and reversing a hostile political climate were just a few topics the author, motivational speaker and humanitarian touched on at The Bird and the Book.
A standing-room-only crowd was the last thing Blount County Democratic Party Vice Chair Nathan Higdon expected.
“My goal was to get about 50 people to show up today, but we got about five times that many,” Higdon said.
Higdon said Williamson’s campaign was the first to answer when the party began reaching out to various Democratic candidates in February.
The crowd was both enthusiastic and relaxed, a far cry from the aggressively polarized stumps that often mar American politics.
That Williamson visited a small but eager Appalachian voting demographic that usually is overlooked also pleased organizers.
“Many candidates look to rural folks as some monolith, but we are not just white farmers,” Higdon said. “We are black and brown folks, along with a lot of white people. We are teachers, engineers, professors, mothers and fathers, and after the tens of thousands of doors that the Blount County Democratic Party knocked on last year, we discovered that what is important to us is important to people all across the country. And that is the raging opioid epidemic, the lack of affordable housing, the rising prescription and insurance costs, reduced environmental regulations that affect the Great Smoky Mountains just up the street, the attacks on education that are happening in our legislature as we speak.”
Williamson’s Southern roots and the ability of voters to force positive change were recurring themes.
Raised Jewish in Houston, Williamson, 66, grew up during the volatile Civil Rights era, when black and white activists alike often faced imprisonment and even murder.
Understanding the resurgence of white supremacy means understanding its roots beyond rhetoric and fearmongering, she explained.
“In the 1960s, after signing the Civil Rights legislation, President Lyndon Johnson uttered these words ‘Well, we just lost the South for a generation,’” Williamson said. “He didn’t say for 50 years.
“Anybody who thinks the central issue is somebody who is tough enough to beat Donald Trump is naive about the nature of the opponent,” Williamson continued. “If somebody does beat him in 2020, then the forces behind him will still be back in 2022 and they’ll be back in 2024, because this problem predated him. There was too much that was going on before this that gave rise to the pathological problem that is happening in American politics today. We need to do more than pull away from the cliff, we need to get out of the vicinity of the cliff, and the way we get out of the vicinity of the cliff is to go deep into the vicinity of truth.”
The influence of extremist religious movements also played a part in polarizing the region, but Williamson points out that the temperance movement, suffrage and many other history-making activist movements all began in the spiritual community.
“That’s the fascinating thing about the South,” Williamson said. “Not only was the South Ground Zero for the problem, the South was also the Ground Zero where that level of spiritual power was able to solve the problem.
“Democracy is radical,” Williamson added. “Love is radical. Democracy and love are principles with which we should not compromise. You should compromise with politics but you don’t compromise with your vision. You don’t compromise with your principles. If you’re hurting a baby, you stop right there. If you are hurting the planet we need to bequeath to our children and our grandchildren, you stop right there. And if you are undercutting the very principles on which we stand, you stop right there.”
Long known for her progressive politics and AIDS community activism, Williamson quickly fingered what she thinks really polarizes voters while driving the current political juggernaut.
She describes the rising influence of corporate activists as creating an undemocratic mindset that has hijacked the system.
“Today we have a new class of aristocrats, a new class of corporate overlords,” Williamson said. “It’s big pharmaceutical companies, it’s health insurance, it’s gun manufacturers. It’s defense contractors, and our government operates to advocate for their ability to have short-term profits ...”
Williamson proposes creating a national public elections fund to combat the influence of the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling that allows super PACs to receive unlimited funding from unnamed sources.
“We also need to repeal the 2017 tax cut,” Williamson said. “It gives 83 cents of every dollar to the top 1%.”
Ending the practice of sanctioning other countries on behalf of corporate and military interests while shifting the focus from aggressive military spending to the State Department’s functions as a peacetime office is a big priority, she added.
Williamson also proposes expanding Medicare while retaining the Affordable Care Act and allowing those with private insurance to opt to retain coverage.
“I want to be an agent of change, not an agent of chaos,” Williamson said.
One of her biggest goals is creating a national Department of Children and Youth to address social issues that impact children while ending what she described as political normalization of childhood trauma to disenfranchise future voters.
She also proposes lowering the voting age to 16 while automatically enrolling voters on their birthdays.
”This will be the first time there will be a voting demographic of people who weren’t even born in the 20th Century, but there will also be many people voting who will not live a majority of their lives in the 20th Century,” Williamson said. “I see a country that is just like an individual in their 20s. You look at your parents, you ask what did they did that you would have done, and if you don’t like it, change it.”
”They are experiencing a level of PTSD no less than that of a returning veterans, and meanwhile we are paying $26 billion in corporate subsidies last year to the fossil fuel industry alone,” Williamson said. “Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t a swamp, this is an ocean of corruption. It’s time for the people to step in.”
The power of positivity was as attractive to some of the attendees as Williamson’s emphasis on youth outreach.
Maryville residents Siena Spanyer and Rachel Ottinger heard about the appearance during a recent protest against school vouchers.
The 18-year-olds agreed with her emphasis on identifying and treating the root of social problems and not just the symptoms.
”It was amazing, especially with her trying to bring in younger voters” Spanyer said. “That’s important.
Driving three hours to see Williamson was no big deal for Pam Blue of West Palm Beach, Florida, who heard about the stop while vacationing in Bradyville.
”I was one of those who was asleep about politics,” Blue said. “When I heard she was running for president, I went out and opened social media accounts to promote her.”