A little over a month ago we looked at Marianne Williamson's plans for a national tour-- the Love America Your. It's not a plan anymore. She's right in the middle of it, having completed events in Richmond, Winston-Salem (with Jenny Marshall), Houston, Austin (with Derrick Crowe) and Las Vegas. She's taking a break now and then picking up again in Florida in March.
But her event in Houston was very special-- even mind-blowing-- and it was covered by two Houston Chronicle reporters, one black (Joy Sewing) and one white (Erica Grieder). "Marianne Williamson walked to the middle of the stage," wrote Sewing, "paused for a second, then she asked all the black people to stand." There were nearly a thousand people in the room and 200, including Sewing, stood up.
The New York Times best-selling author, internationally known spiritual teacher and native Houstonian was in town recently for her "Love America Tour" at Unity of Houston. She urged the 200 of us from our seats. She then instructed a white person to hold the hand of a black person standing.Chronicle columnist Erica Grieder hadn't planned on attending; she didn't really know who Marianne is and hadn't read any of her books. "I really had no idea what to expect," she wrote. "On Williamson's website, the tour is billed as an effort to promote political renewal via 'a revolution in consciousness.' Fear and hatred, the site explains, have become powerful forces in politics. In Williamson's view, we can harness the powers of love and decency in response-- and, if our democracy is to survive, we must." Grieder noted that just hours before Marianne took the stage, Trump blurted out his ugly bigoted statement about people from "shithole countries."
A white woman and a teenage girl who looked to be mother and daughter in the row behind me took my hand and arm.
Williamson then told the white people to repeat after her. She began with, "I apologize..."
I was at Williamson's event to celebrate my birthday, January 15, the same as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Each year, I try to attend a talk, lecture or event for my birthday that inspires and uplifts as he did. This year, it was Williamson's sell-out talk at Unity Church with some 700 people in attendance.
Her focus was on racism and politics, saying that until the United States addresses slavery honestly, gets deep about its enduring impact on African Americans and makes amends, we will continue a cycle of hate and racism in this country.
She cited Germany's effort to apologize to Jewish people for the Holocaust and pay out billions in reparations.
According to the New York Times, many Germans are not even aware that their country, after paying $89 billion in compensation mostly to Jewish victims of Nazi crimes over six decades, still meets regularly to revise and expand the guidelines for reparations. The mission is to reach as many of the tens of thousands of elderly survivors who have never received any form of support.
The U.S. State Department also has paid or approved 90 claims for $11 million in reparations from France to former World War II prisoners who were carried to Nazi death camps in French trains — the first French reparations paid to Holocaust survivors living in the U.S.
Reparations, even the "forty acres and a mule" promised in part by General William Tecumseh Sherman on Jan. 16, 1865, to former slaves, has been an ongoing debate in this country, but that's not really what Williamson focused on.
A black woman stood up and told Williamson, who is Jewish, she was struggling to deal with the hurt and hate in her heart for white people because of racism. Williamson said one of the problems is that many white people are in denial about racism, don't want to talk about it and want black people to "get over it."
Black people are angry, and it's understandable, she said.
Unfortunately, anger is our Achilles' heel.
A colleague, whom I have tremendous respect for, once asked me why many black people are so angry today. I responded with, "Why aren't you angry?"
She looked at me with a puzzled stare.
I explained that ending racism is just as much a responsibility for her white community to "get it" as it is for my black community to "explain it." Frankly, I said many of us are tired of explaining racist actions and racially insensitive and dismissive messages that permeate our world.
It's time for white people to get it and speak up, too. That's why Williamson's apology to African Americans at Unity was so powerful.
In 2016, she penned, Prayer of Apology to African Americans, and shared it on Twitter.
"With this prayer I acknowledge the depth of evils that have been perpetrated against black people in America... I apologize, please forgive us."
Before she even started, I felt on edge as I often feel when white people say things, like "You don't talk black." Honestly, I was waiting to be offended.
With nearly 200 black people in the audience on their feet, Williamson apologized for slavery, lynching, murders, rapes of black women, destruction of the black family, mass incarceration of black men, being called the N-word and systemic and institutionalized racism and more.
As she continued for what seemed like forever, I felt a rage boiling inside of me that was followed by a Viola Davis ugly cry. (Fans of Davis in ABC's How to Get Away with Murder know what I'm talking about.)
I never thought I needed an apology from white people, but it felt like I was crying for my grandmother, my great-grandmother and all my people who endured and died because of hate in this country.
I cried for all of the times I've felt marginalized, discriminated against and invisible because of the color of my skin, even in my own industry.
I cried for all of the times I've watched black children, especially girls, had their esteem beaten down to nothing because they didn't fit the standard of white beauty.
I cried because I didn't know how deep the hurt was.
I could not stop crying.
I opened my eyes to see everyone around me-- white, black, Asian like my friend, Sydney Dao, who is Vietnamese-- crying, too. I nearly collapsed to floor from the emotional weight I was feeling.
But the harder I cried, the tighter the white woman and girl held on to me.
There was a white man in the front pew who had turned around to face the entire audience. He had no one black to hold onto, but he seemed to be shouting Williamson's words for me to hear.
It was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I have ever had.
On my way out, I whispered "thank you" to the white woman and girl who held onto me so tightly. They had kind eyes and thanked me back.
Marianne Williamson is right. We need healing. We need real talk about racism in this country. It's time for white people to get it.
An apology is a start.
She began by emphasizing how important it is for Americans to know the history of our nation, and to be clear-eyed about both its virtues and its flaws, and the contradictions that they reflect. We're the only country founded on small-d democratic principles, for example, but many of the men who signed the Constitution, which enshrines those principles, nonetheless owned slaves.They have different ways of going about it but Marianne and Bernie-- who are admirers of each other-- have similar goals. Earlier today, Bernie sent his supporters about how can push back against the toxic and devastating Republican agenda. "This government shutdown and budget fight in Washington," he wrote, "is also about our priorities as a nation. Republicans want massive increases in military spending while refusing to address the crises we face in health care, education, college affordability, infrastructure and more... From coast to coast Americans want a government that represents all of us, not the 1 percent. They don't want congressional leadership that has tried repeatedly to throw tens of millions of people off their health insurance and then looted the U.S. Treasury to give massive tax breaks to their fat cat donors. This right-wing Republican leadership has got to go! And we are the ones who have to send them packing." And, like Marianne, he's getting on the road, to help foster change.
Since then, in Williamson's telling, the Americans who want to realize those ideals have been in a constant struggle against those who would rather not, for various reasons. Perhaps they're beneficiaries of an unjust status quo, or are subconsciously seeking to re-create a regime in which the people are subordinate to an entitled aristocracy.
The latter, Williamson continued, currently have the upper hand. And so it's incumbent on spiritual and religious communities to lead the change-- as, historically, they always have.
"People just being anti-slavery was not going to end slavery," she noted. They had to actually do something, as the Quakers did in the abolitionist movement, or as Martin Luther King Jr. did in the fight for civil rights.
But what struck me most in Williamson's talk was her explanation for why spiritual and religious communities step up to the plate.
"We don't believe in a God out there, and a devil out there, that is stalking the planet, trying to grab men's souls. We believe in something in here," she said, pointing at her head.
That being the case, spiritual and religious Americans agree that there is a world beyond the world in which we live-- a "truer reality," according to our beliefs. A world in which people are equal, and truly free.
Like all Americans, we also believe that's how things should be in this world, or at least in this country. But religious communities have, historically, been leaders in so many fights for change.
Beliefs can't be quantified, measured, or documented; as Williamson put it, the truth sometimes "becomes out-pictured" by the proximate reality. But when political leaders are flouting basic American principles, spiritual and religious Americans often object, because our civic beliefs are often reinforced by our beliefs about the truer reality.
Williamson is right, I think, about the powers of love and decency: They can harnessed, for political purposes, and should be channeled into actions accordingly. Voting is one example. Another would be pointing out that Trump's comments on Thursday should be offensive to all Americans, regardless of their political beliefs. As Americans, we believe that all people are created equal, even if they come from suboptimal countries; that is a foundational premise of this one, which Trump supposedly leads.
How we win is straightforward. We have all witnessed the power of grassroots politics. Whether it was the 2016 primary campaign, the millions of women who took to the streets, the people from all walks of life who showed up at airports to protest the bigoted Trump Muslim ban, or the overwhelming majority standing with our Dreamer brothers and sisters, the message is clear. When we stand together we can build the America we all want to see.See that thermometer on just above, on the right? If you donate on the page that leads to, the contributions go to Bernie's federal campaign account-- either his Senate campaign or... Well, as you know, 2020 is just around the corner. You can probably guess who we're supporting (again).
Grassroots efforts have been successful in electing new progressive voices from all walks of life in places like Virginia, New York, Alabama, Mississippi and elsewhere. Grassroots efforts can transform this country. But we have to redouble our efforts if we are going to wrest our country back from those whose greed and dishonesty is destroying it.
That is why I want to announce to you a major new three-part initiative for this year and how you can be part of the fight to take our country back.
First, I am committing to travel the country in support of progressives running up and down the ballot. Like I did when together we rallied millions against the Republicans' failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I intend to go to every corner of this country to help build the electoral wave that will sweep Republicans out of the Congress, out of governors' mansions, out of state houses and out of city and town halls.
I hope in my travels that I will see you at these events. Your attendance is critically important to showing the strength of our movement and our resolve.
Second, as we work to create Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, I will be giving special focus to a core group of up-and-coming progressive candidates at the national and state level. We need progressive Democrats who are going to vigorously stand up against Republicans and fight for our values. But the only way they win is if we help them.
These are the type of candidates who do not draw big dollar contributions but they can prevail if we provide them the small dollar, grassroots support they need. As we introduce this growing list of candidates to you over the next couple of months I hope you will give them the support they need to carry our fight forward in their primaries and in the general election.
Finally, I am excited to announce that we will be reactivating the distributed organizing network that was at the heart of our grassroots success in 2015/2016. This will give us the capacity to reach out to millions of households by phone, by email, on social media and by text message.
This will give each of you the power to help elect progressives and defeat Republicans all across the country.
What we have seen over the last depressing year is a full out assault on working people of all races, an assault on marginalized communities and an assault on people based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and national origin.
Trump and the Republicans want to divide and conquer while the billionaire class laughs all the way to the bank and the rest of America falls further and further behind. We cannot let them do it.
The late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan summed it up so well when she described the aspiration of everyone in this country-- "What the people want is very simple-- they want an America as good as its promise."
Creating that America has been the motivation of my entire political life. I have always believed that together we could make it a reality. Even in these dire times, I feel it more strongly than ever.