Democratic presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson crammed into a small yoga studio Monday in downtown Rock Hill. About 50 people sat with their legs crossed on yoga mats and stared up at Williamson.
Williamson’s bodyguard filled the door frame in the tight room. He tried to squeeze out of the way as more people came in.
“Make sure everybody knows they can come in,” Williamson, a self-help author and lecturer, said. She continued.
“Please make sure everybody knows they can come in,” Williamson said. “We shouldn’t stand at the door like we’re protecting the room. It’s not necessary.”
The crowd, at Synergy Yoga, laughed. Her bodyguard stepped outside.
Williamson sat in a black fold-able chair, her legs crossed, and spoke for more than an hour on her plans for the country. She made it clear that she isn’t a typical candidate but that doesn’t mean she’s any less capable.
Williamson has struggled in the polls among the other 17 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. She did not make the cut for the Democratic debate earlier this month and will not appear on the debate stage in November.
But traditional politics is not enough to beat Donald Trump, Williamson said.
“Now, I’m running for president and as you know, I’m about one of 1,736 people who are running,” she said.
The crowd, mostly white women, laughed.
“They’re all really cool and they’re really good and they’re all very nice people,” Williamson said. “And they’re all telling you the truth. What I’m saying to you however is we have to do more than tell the truth. We have to do what you have to do in a court of law, when you raise your hand and you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We need a level of truth telling that we don’t normally associate with politics.”
She said too many people have disengaged in conversations about politics, which has hurt the country.
“People know we’re going to have to get real,” she said. “And we’re going to talk about some things that aren’t necessarily fun to talk about. We’re not going to necessarily agree, so we’re gonna have to be real careful data nonviolent communication skills.”
‘Palace of learning and a palace of culture’
Williamson said if elected, she would work to improve the conditions in schools and used the South Carolina governor’s schools as an example of how the conditions should be.
“When you go to these schools, it was both totally inspiring and totally heartbreaking at the same time,” she said. “Totally inspiring because, this is what education could be, and heartbreaking because you have what 280 students. If I’m president. I want every school in America to be a palace of learning and a palace of culture.”
She said she wants to combat childhood trauma.
“We have children in the United States who are traumatized before preschool,” she said. “Some of these kids have terrible behavioral problems even before preschool. I mean so many elementary school teachers said, ‘I can’t take it anymore. I was educated to be an educator, not to be a behavioral therapist.’”
‘Need to rise up’
Williamson said her plan to provide $500 billion in reparations for the descendants of enslaved people is just the first step in addressing racial inequalities in the country.
“The reason I want reparations for slavery is because I want to end one aberrational chapter of American history,” she said. “Whether you’re a country or a person, you can’t have the future you want, unless you’re willing to clean up the past.”
She said reparations have more force than race-based policies.
“If we’re going to have any kind of fundamental changes in the direction of a moral repair in this country, it won’t be because people whose careers have been entrenched for decades within the system said that they’ll improve states with a tweak here tweak there,” she said.
Her voice grew louder.
“People need to rise up and the people need to step in.”
Mental Health Forum at Winthrop
Later in the day, Williamson held a forum on mental health awareness at Winthrop University. Williamson sat between Singer Michelle Williams and radio presenter Charlamagne Tha God, who all said they struggle with mental health, in the packed auditorium.
Psychology professor Melissa Reeves asked Williamson how she plans to help students with college debt.
The hundreds of students in the crowd sat on the edge of their seats and clapped. Ty’Asia Nelson-Pringle, a senior at Winthrop, stood in the back.
“Speak on it,” Nelson-Pringle said. “We need to know.”
Williamson grabbed the microphone. The crowd quieted.
“Cancel all of it,” Williamson said slow.
“Period,” Nelson-Pringle said. Students stood up and cheered. Williamson continued.
“Anything that helps you actualize your dreams, ultimately puts money into the U.S. economy,” she said. “We don’t need to be saying to corporate aristocrats, ‘Please give me a job.’ We need to be saying to the entire system, ‘Give me an education. Give me healthcare. Give me a shot at it and I’ll create my own damn career.”
‘All about ourselves’
Williamson said people need to be careful in the way they talk about trauma, especially when it comes to politics.
“When I hear people say, ’Oh I’m just so traumatized by everything that’s happening with Trump,’ the people who walked across the bridge in Selma, they were traumatized,” she said.
The crowd cheered.
“It’s one thing to admit that we’re anxious,” she said. “It’s another to be enrolled in the idea that we’re victims or we’re weak or there’s something wrong with us.”
Williamson said people need to check in with each other more.
“I think we want to be very careful because we are a society that has made it all about ourselves,” she said. “And I don’t care what else you do, if it’s all about you, you’re not going to be happy.”
‘We’re hiding things’
Reeves asked Charlamagne Tha God why he thought there is a stigma on mental health in the black community.
“Because black people, we think we’re doing ourselves favors by keeping secrets,” he said. “But we’re not.”
He said the way to eradicate the stigma is to talk about mental health.
The only reason there’s a stigma is because we’re really just afraid to talk about it,” he said. “We’re hiding things from each other.”
‘Sweep so much under the rug’
Williams, a former member of Destiny’s Child, said a big part of mental health awareness in the country is being comfortable talking about it.
“It took me so long to go to therapy,” she said. “I thought therapy was for rich white people.”
Students in the crowd murmured “Yes.”
“So you know what happens when you lift up a rug?,” she continued. “All the dust bunnies that’s under there, that’s what we’ve done with our lives. We sweep so much under the rug.”
Williams asked the students if they knew where to go on campus if they needed to talk about mental health. Most students in the crowd nodded their heads.
“You don’t have to be suicidal to go sit on the seat to talk,” she said. “You can simply be overwhelmed or just so down. You don’t have to wait or you don’t have to have a twitch to think something is wrong with you.”
Charlamagne Tha God jumped in.
“Don’t wait until you’re fat to go to the gym,” he said.