Williamson: California has an open primary; on June 3 there will be a primary election, and after that the top two vote getters automatically go on to the mid-term elections in November. Whether those two are any mix of Republican, Democrat, Independent or any other doesn’t matter. So there’s no chance for anyone to be a spoiler. The calculus in California politics doesn’t allow for it.
The MOON: And what about money? Are you going to be able to raise enough money to mount a successful campaign?
Williamson: Mine is a grassroots campaign. I’m hoping that people around the country who feel as I do—that our democracy itself is on life support—will help fund my campaign. We need to get money out of politics—to pave the way for publically funded federal campaigns—yet we need to win seats in Congress in order to make that happen! I hope people who feel that getting money out of politics is the moral challenge of our generation, and that the undue influence of money is the issue that underlies many other issues—from climate change, to child poverty (we have the second highest rate among all industrialized nations), to the corruption of our food supply (GMOs and so forth), to our high incarceration rate (the highest in the world) to our permanent war economy—will feel inspired to send a minimum of five dollars a month to support my candidacy. Will this ultimately give me the money necessary to mount a competitive race? Certainly I hope so. In my heart, I believe so.
The MOON: I’ve always loved the forcefulness with which you speak. How do you respond to people who say that we shouldn’t resist war, inequality, or injustice, because “what we resist persists”?
Williamson: I say that’s one of the silliest, most counterfeit uses of a spiritual teaching I’ve ever heard. There is no serious spiritual path that gives people a pass on addressing the suffering of other sentient beings. Any rule of mind can be used by either fear, or love. To use a concept such as non-resistance to justify doing nothing while children starve, or bombs drop on innocents, is ludicrous to me. If someone broke into your home and was trying to kidnap your child, would you not resist them?
The MOON: Yes, I would. And I’m often criticized because I “should be building the new world” instead of resisting the old one.
Williamson: Well, ultimately, I think that’s what we’re doing here.
The MOON: Yes, but some situations seem to me to require an urgency that “building the new world” doesn’t take into account.
Williamson: Absolutely! Fear-based ego will twist anything. It’s extraordinary how insidious the mind can be in using truth to justify lies. Narcissism has a funny way of camouflaging itself.
The MOON: Thank you for that clarification. What about separation of church and state? Don’t spiritually based politics blur that line?
Williamson: Separation of church and state is one of the most enlightened principles in our Constitution. It was intended to both protect government from interference by religious forces—in other words, no minister, priest, mufti, or rabbi can walk into Congress and forbid a certain law from being passed based on their interpretation of religious doctrine—and it was also intended to protect religions from interference by government forces. The police can’t walk in and break up a religious service, saying, “This isn’t on the official list of accepted religions.” Don’t forget that many people first came to this country to escape religious persecution. So that’s what “separation of church and state” means. It was not intended to limit religious or spiritual conversation in America; it was meant to protect it! It had nothing to do with limiting religious freedom, or to indicate that anyone with a religious or spiritual voice had a limited role to play as a citizen, or even as a politician.
The MOON: We’ve seen the Religious Right use so-called spirituality to advance its own political agenda. How would your spiritual politics differ?
Williamson: I certainly don’t agree with people who connect Christ with tax cuts for the rich and refusing to help the poor. But at the same time, I would argue for anyone’s right to base their political views on their spiritual, religious, or philosophical values.
When I was growing up, during the Vietnam War, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin was a major voice in the anti-war movement. President John F. Kennedy said our nation couldn’t afford to be materially rich but spiritually poor. And Bobby Kennedy said that the contest of his time was not over the politics of America but over the soul of America. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s views were based on his commitment to the gospel. So this very over-secularized version of politics that now exists is the aberration, not the tradition, in progressive politics.
Traditionally, the conservative side of the political spectrum emphasized private morality, and still does; while the liberal side of the political spectrum emphasized public morality. To me, economic injustice is a moral issue. One in five American children living in poverty is a moral issue. The fact that an African-American male today stands a one in three lifetime probability of incarceration is a moral issue. Pre-emptive war is a moral issue.
The MOON: You’re running as a progressive against one of the most progressive, senior members of the House. From what you’ve told us about California’s open primary system, could we face a choice in the general election between Marianne Williamson and Henry Waxman?
Williamson: Yes, but with all due respect, I question your description of Henry Waxman as such a progressive at this point in his career. Henry Waxman voted to authorize George Bush’s use of military force in Iraq; he voted for the Patriot Act; he voted twice for the National Defense Authorization Act; he voted against auditing the Federal Reserve; he voted for continuing tax cuts to billionaires. So while I have respect for much of what Congressman Waxman did in the first half of his thirty-eight year career—particularly in the area of environmental protection—the idea that he would today be seen as a progressive champion seems odd to me.
The MOON: Can you describe your vision of a healed American democracy?
Williamson: The average American has a feeling—and a legitimate one—that they’re locked out. They’re locked out politically, they’re locked out educationally, and they’re locked out financially.
Just as blood needs to circulate in the body in order for the body to be healthy, opportunity needs to circulate in the society for the society to be healthy. Political access needs to circulate; educational access needs to circulate; access to capital needs to circulate.
Yet the limits to that circulation are everywhere. If you don’t have wealth or access to wealth, don’t even think about running for office. Children whose parents can’t afford to send them to preschool are behind on day one of kindergarten, and if we don’t catch them up in their reading within two years then by the second grade they’re on a fifty percent probability track to incarceration. Millions of college students graduate every year with extraordinary debt in the form of student loans. There are more and more areas of life where the average American is locked out; and that is not the democratic vision.
The American Dream is that anyone who worked hard enough would have a chance here. The issue isn’t that money should be redistributed; it’s that opportunity should be maximized in places where it over the last few years it has been minimized. Capitalism can be ethical, you know, and it should be. But American capitalism has strayed from its ethical center. We’ve countenanced the development of a predatory form of capitalism in this country, and that’s what needs to be corrected. It’s a good thing that people get rich in America; the problem is that too many people every year fall into poverty through no fault of their own.
The MOON: What do you mean “no fault of their own”? Isn’t it just that they don’t want to work?
Williamson: That’s just a tragic stereotype, obviously. The facts do not support it.
The MOON: That’s the Republican argument: poor people are just lazy leeches who are sucking the life out of the U.S. economy.
Williamson: I don’t think any serious American really believes that. Certainly there are poor people in America with an entitled attitude, thinking the government owes them a living. But there are also rich people in America with an entitled attitude, thinking the government owes them a living. And the “suck” on the U.S. economy by the poor is a fraction of the “suck” on the U.S. economy by the rich. Martin Luther King said, “If they give it to the poor, they call it a hand-out. If they give it to the rich, they call it a subsidy.”
A person is as sick as their secrets, and so is a country. It’s important that we look at all these dirty little secrets in our midst, so we can resolve and transform them. We have to face our shadows in order to enter the light. This is not the first time in our history that America has swerved off course; I just hope we won’t be the first generation to wimp out on mounting a course correction. That, to me, is the issue at hand.