Racism among country's 'original character defects,' Williamson says

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson focused on the country's youngest residents, reparations for slavery and a move to curb injustice in the United States at an NAACP convention appearance Tuesday.

Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson speaks during the 110th NAACP Convention at Cobo Center, in Detroit, Michigan on July 23, 2019.

"There is a passive attack on the underprivileged children of the United States of America, and that will end if I am president," the best-selling author, activist and spiritual teacher told a small crowd at Cobo Center.

"Because we can talk about criminal justice. We can talk about voter suppression. We can talk about housing. We can talk about any other issue involved in economic injustice. But none of that will get to the core of the matter if we continue to allow injustice towards anyone’s child."

The candidate who calls for leading with love and "a moral and spiritual awakening" appeared at the civil rights group's gathering a week before she returns to Detroit to participate in the first night of the second presidential debates.

Remarks by the former Metro Detroit resident, nationally known for self-help books such as "A Return to Love," made her the most-searched candidate during the second night of the first Democrat debates in Miami last month, according to Google Trends.

On Tuesday, she centered on outlining her goals, plans and proposed policies to reshape the country if she's elected.

Williamson has proposed establishing a cabinet-level Department of Children and Youth to address the needs of America’s youth and families. The department would coordinate information and solutions for families and children with wraparound services, anti-trauma, restorative justice, education, conflict resolution, emotional health services and medical care.

Williamson, 67, also pushed for improving schools.

"My commitment is that every school in America should be a palace of learning and culture and the arts," she said.

Williamson has suggested creating a Department of Peace. Among its duties: addressing gun safety; working to expand economic opportunities for women; boosting educational offerings; and augmenting international diplomatic work.

On Tuesday, the Houston native covered a controversial topic that has re-emerged in the Democratic presidential primary campaign: reparations for slavery.

She has proposed a commission to disperse $200 billion to $500 billion over 20 years to promote education, infrastructure, and projects dedicated to African American communities. The commission would be led by black leaders representing descendants of slaves, Williamson said Tuesday.

Williamson, who has long pushed for reparations and was the first candidate in the presidential primary season to make it a pillar of her campaign, noted that even in "some of the whitest audiences" in the country, there is "an openness" about discussing reparations.

The “A Politics of Love” author also recounted how Germany has paid billions in reparations to Jewish victims of Nazi crimes, and the U.S. government paid reparations to Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

"Paying reparations for slavery does not mean slavery did not occur. It will not fix everything," Williamson said. "... Reparations are powerful not only economically, but reparations are powerful morally and spiritually. They carry an inherent mea culpa. They carry an inherent acknowledgment of a wrong that was done, a debt that is owed and a willingness on the part of a nation to pay it."

Some in the audience applauded Williamson's discussion.

"She brought up issues that a lot of other candidates aren’t talking about," said Morandon Henry, a national NAACP board member from California.

Williamson also stressed addressing economic disparities and racism, which she called one of the country's "original character defects."

She supports repealing the Trump tax cuts, levying a 3% tax on billionaires and a 2% tax on residents whose wealth tops $500 million, ending private prisons, addressing racial disparities in criminal sentencing and bolstering voting rights.

"We must … interrupt the economic and social patterns of this country that allow all of these dysfunctions and these evils to exist," said Williamson, who has founded Project Angel Food, a California-based nonprofit that serves people with serious illness. "And if any of us think that just an incremental change here and an incremental change there is going to do it, we are allowing ourselves to be fooled."

On Wednesday, several others vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are slated to participate in a political forum at the convention, the NAACP's 110th and first in the city since 2007.

Williamson and those seeking the nation's highest office were invited to help inform voters, said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president for policy and advocacy.

"As we move into this election cycle, we found it to be even more crucial and important that people know where the candidates stand on issues that are so important to the NAACP and the communities we serve," he said.

Candice Crutcher, an Eastern Michigan University student who attended the conference, welcomed the chance to hear Williamson outside of televised debates.

"It was cool to hear what she had to say," the 23-year-old said.

Though ranking low in national polls, Williamson, whose faith columns appeared in The Detroit News, has attracted support for her presidential bid in the state she once called home. Federal records show her campaign raised $14,402.37 from Michigan donors during the second quarter of the year.