Santa Monica Organization of Women Leaders Honoree Marianne Williamson wants to bring goodness back to the White House in 2020

By Danny Karel

Organization of Women Leaders members celebrate a successful International Women’s Day event with honoree Marianne Williamson
Photo by Diana Feil

It has become annual tradition for the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, its affiliated Organization of Women Leaders (OWL) networking group and the Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women to host a special International Women’s Day Breakfast recognizing the achievements of role models and luminaries — among them actress and entrepreneur Jennifer Garner, news anchor and philanthropist Christine Devine, then-SMPD Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, documentary filmmaker Amy Ziering and Bettina Duval, founder of the women’s political fundraising network Californialist.

On Monday, members and supporters gathered inside the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows at the crack of dawn to honor this year’s recipients of the carved wood statuettes they call OWLies, shaped like curious owls.

One went to Julie Pilat, a youth mentor and community advocate who is the head of global operations for Apple Music’s Beats 1 streaming service.

The other went to Marianne Williamson, a best-selling author, lecturer, spiritual teacher and, as of January, a presidential candidate running as a Democrat to unseat President Donald Trump.

Williamson has already accrued a third of the Democratic National Committee’s grassroots fundraising threshold for early presidential primary debates — 65,000 unique campaign contributions spread among at least 20 states.

Perhaps in a nod to Williamson — often cited as Oprah’s spiritual guru — the post-breakfast program began with an ice-breaking exercise meant to facilitate deeper human connection.

“We’re going to kick off this morning with a moment of authenticity,” said Sawubona arts community founder Sasha Speer, who instructed participants to stand, make eye contact with a neighbor, and hold that eye contact for several minutes. “Now, allow yourself to feel every emotion,” she said, acknowledging likely discomfort. The room chuckled and groaned; the discomfort seemed to bear out.

Apple Beats 1 Head of Global Operations Julie Pilat (center), with Laurel Rosen and Gauri Brienda-Ramnath of
Photo by Diana Feil

Then Pilat took the stage to share the remarkable story of her ascent through the music industry, a journey fueled by passion and sacrifice, and something even more moving that happened along the way.

At age 29, a mentorship program paired Pilat with a 15-year-old girl named Vicky who lived in South Central Los Angeles and was the sole guardian of her own infant daughter. The teenager faced a whirlwind of problems, from financial insecurity to threats of gang violence. Pilat took her in, a decision that briefly threw her life into disarray. According to Pilat, it wasn’t until she accepted help from friends and coworkers that their situation improved. She encouraged everyone in the room to learn from her stubbornness — and her eventual willingness to accept help.

When it was Williamson’s turn to speak, she mentioned the “millions of Vickys” forgotten in America — a jumping-off point for a thoughtful and at times whimsical speech about misplaced values and priorities in America.

“Our national security agenda is set on waging war,” said Williamson, “when it should be set on waging peace.”

Williamson called on women to harness the political and social power they already possess, instead of dwelling on what they lack. The message was compelling, and was met with fierce applause.

“This generation …” she said, pointing to the audience, “… is making history. And there’s no doubt about that.”

After the event, The Argonaut spoke briefly with Williamson about what it means to translate spiritual practice into the rough and tumble — and increasing interpersonal vitriol — of the national political arena.

The Argonaut: The 2020 Democratic field is already very crowded. How do you set yourself apart?

Marianne Williamson: I’m not trying to set myself apart. I’m not running against anyone, I’m running with a lot of smart people. I think anyone who speaks their own deep and authentic truth is unique enough [to run].

How have your experiences prepared you for the presidency?

Marianne Williamson at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, where on Monday she received a Santa Monica Organization of Women Leaders Award.
Photo by Courtnay Robbins

I’ve had a 35-year career working on the transformation of individuals and systems, and I know that real transformation goes beyond just tweaking things on the outside — that in order to truly heal our lives, to transform our lives, we need to address psychological and emotional and moral and spiritual dimensions that are beyond just material change.

Our politics is stuck in an increasingly obsolete and even inaccurate mindset that only addresses external change. If all you do is see politics in terms of tweaking things on the outside, then even if you make a positive change all that needs to happen is that someone comes around two years later, four years later, and repeals that positive change. So we need to expand the entire political conversation to be more multi-dimensional, to include the recognition of the political significance of psychological and emotional issues.

I say ‘political significance’ because how people feel will determine how they act. How people vote, how people act, is not just based on intellectual analysis. So, the conversation that dominates the political process right now is, to me, a relic of 20th-century thinking. I don’t see why people who will live the majority of their lives in the 21st century have to be burdened by holdovers of economic and political thinking that should be placed into the dustbin of history.

So how would you change the conversation?

Well, I’m changing the conversation by having it with you right now. I’m changing the conversation by talking about these things on this campaign, things that the traditional political establishment isn’t talking about.

As a person of strong conviction, would you be able to compromise with people in Washington — a place where there’s constant political gridlock?

We need a politics and a capitalism of conscience. No socioeconomic group and no side of the political spectrum has a monopoly on that. We need to become a more values-based culture. Within that, there are more high-minded, legitimate conservative views, and there are high-minded liberal or progressive views. So, a certain level of compromise is part of the art of politics, but what we need to stop compromising with is basic principles of right and wrong. What we need to stop compromising with are the dictates of love.

You write that “there is a groundswell of people in America who are seeking a higher wisdom.” Why do you think that is?

Jared Kushner looked out at all the angry people in America and said to his father-in-law: “We could win the presidency if we harness that.” I look out and see a lot of loving, decent, good people in America — I say we need to harness that. There are a lot more loving, good, decent people in America than there are hateful people. It’s just that hateful people are hating with conviction these days. We need to love with conviction.

Why do you think they’re out there?

Because I meet them every day, and I think you call up in people the part of them that you speak to. I’ve traveled this country and I’ve traveled this world — we’re no better than anyone else, but we’re no worse than anyone else. We’re good, decent people. But too many times our goodness and our decency are kept in the purview of personal behavior, and we need to extend it into the public sphere. Our economic system is soulless. It’s disconnected from the heart, and anything disconnected from the heart — whether it’s an individual or a large political or economic system — that’s sociopathic. When you don’t posit a moral and ethical responsibility to other people as part of your life code, that’s sociopathic, whether that’s an individual or an entire system.