Marianne Williamson, the spiritual lecturer and best-selling author of such books as The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife, plans to bring a new consciousness to politics with the two-day Sister Giant conference she is organizing for November 10 and 11.
Taking place in Los Angeles just days after Election Day, the conference will combine the need for developing a spiritual perspective on politics, in-depth analysis of issues our politicians should be addressing but often don’t, and hands-on training geared towards attracting more women to run for office.
“If several hundred women — I think it will be more — leave, first, with a deeper understanding of childhood poverty, mass incarceration, and the destructive role of money in politics; second, with an appreciation for the legislative efforts needed to change those things; third, a fuller recognition of the need for more women to be elected so those legislative priorities can be shifted; and, finally, at least considering the possibility of more political involvement for themselves,” Williamson says. “Hallelujah! That will be a victory.”
Directed particularly at women — and at men who would like to support women in politics — the conference’s first day will address the emotional and psychological issues that have kept women from getting fully involved in the political world, before delving into sessions on three topics a woman candidate — or, really, any candidate — should understand in depth before running for office:
- Child Poverty: America’s child poverty rate is 23%, putting us ahead of all but Romania among 35 developed nations.
- Mass Incarceration: America incarcerates more of our people than any nation in the world.
- Money in Politics: “The cancer beneath all the cancers,” says Williamson.
On the second day, the conference will present a workshop on the ins and outs of running for office given by Yale University’s Women’s Campaign School, an organization devoted to increasing the number and influence of women in elected and appointed positions in the United States and around the world. (See the Sister Giant Facebook page here.)
Taking a Pass on Politics
Williamson, who founded The Peace Alliance, a nonprofit designed to agitate for a new United States Department of Peace, and Project Angel Food, a meals-on-wheels program for homebound AIDS sufferers in Los Angeles, was motivated to start Sister Giant in part because so many in spiritual communities have stayed out of politics.
“When you look at what goes on in politics, it is so tempting to move into anger, to move into cynicism, to move into despair,” she says. “So when it comes to seeking a better life, many people have just taken a pass when it comes to politics.”
Still, Williamson believes the change the world needs will come from within:
“I don’t believe that politics is the salvation of the world. Inner change is the salvation of the world,” she says “But if we don’t deal with politics, current politicians and their followers may destroy the world before we have a chance to renew it from within. I’m concerned about politics more for the negative role it could play.”
Williamson retains great faith in the American spirit, citing the development of Apple computers and Facebook, the landing of Curiosity on Mars. “People say how ‘down’ Americans are, but we’re still the ones who come up with some of the biggest advancements,” she says.
“You can look at any area of endeavor — education, business, science, technology — and you find really good Americans doing really good things,” Williamson continues. “Politics, though, it’s a hard place to pour your best. If you think of politics, it’s almost as if there’s a sign at the door saying to leave the best part of yourself outside.”
All Children of Occupy
Williamson gives the Occupy Movement great credit for awakening the spirit of involvement and activism that has swept the country.
“I’ve sold a lot of books. I started several nonprofits. I’m not coming from some great misunderstanding about the material plane,” she says. “But what we do with Sister Giant needs to be in service with what really needs to be change, and that’s why I do admire what Occupy has done. I see all of what we’re doing as children of Occupy.”
Contrary to many observers who think the Occupy movement has had no effect, has not gone anywhere, has failed, Williamson sees significant change.
“I think it had a profound effect: it changed the conversation. That’s nonmaterial,” she says. “But that nonmaterial change is now part of the political conversation that there’s a 1 percent and then there are the rest of us. That is ground-breaking. You change the conversation, you change the world.”
Williamson is open to possibilities with Sister Giant.
“My goal is to create a lot of action that weekend. What people do with it afterwards is none of my business, unless it becomes obvious that it is my business,” she says. “The world is not calling out for more organizations, it’s not calling out for more density. It’s calling out for deeper reflection and understanding.”
Still, if enough energy comes out of the conference, and if money is available, she can see hiring a political director and creating a nonprofit entity to continue its work.
“I’m open to that. It’s like everything else we do in our lives; what’s the next indicated action?” she says. “But the action we need is inside people’s heads. The real action is people sitting there listening to their hearts.”
Quality, Not Quantity
Williamson does not necessarily anticipate a great mass movement coming out of Sister Giant.
“We worry, both on the Left and the Right, too much about what the majority thinks,” she says. “But the majority didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘let’s get rid of slavery.’ The majority didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘let’s give women the right to vote.’”
“It’s about depth of message and sheer validity of the claim, as Martin Luther King would say,” she continues. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a popular idea: what great idea was ever a popular idea when it was first articulated?”
Politics at its soul should be collective truth-telling, Williamson believes.
“That’s why Gandhi said that politics should be sacred,” Williamson concludes.
Dick Price & Sharon Kyle
Editor & Publisher, LA Progressive