That I should find myself at a rave at 7:30 a.m. on a Wednesday to cover the appearance of one of the 20-plus Democratic presidential candidates feels weirdly correct. It makes as much sense to me as any 2020-election news I’ve consumed so far, which is to say that it has given me a skull-splitting headache and the distinct sensation that my white-knuckled grip on reality is quickly loosening.
The event, “Ethereal Spring,” is being thrown by Daybreaker, a three-hour sober morning rave held every few weeks in cities across the world. Like other Daybreaker events, this one consists of an hour-long fitness class followed by two hours of (sober, morning) dancing. Unlike other Daybreaker events, this one is also set to include an appearance from Marianne Williamson, an author, “thought leader,” spiritual adviser to Oprah, and 2020 presidential candidate who has previously described herself as a “bitch for God.” Last week, she became one of several outsider candidates to qualify for the first Democratic debate.
The dance floor is packed tightly with 150 or so people in leggings and flower crowns jumping around and nursing cans of cold brew. Directly in front of me, a man in a bucket hat and a Marianne Williamson campaign button flosses while a man in sunglasses shouts from the stage at the front of the room that we are not our minds, we are not our bodies, we are conscious energy. A woman onstage next to him is swaying in a pale-blue bodysuit and what looks like a comically tall white derby hat. Behind me, a middle-aged couple is making out furiously next to the ice-water dispenser. While he rubs her butt, I wonder if they plan to donate to the campaign.
Although we’re well into the event, the only indication so far that Williamson will make an appearance is the small table at the entrance to the room, where her campaign has laid out buttons with soft, semi-abstract watercolor-and-ink illustrations of Williamson’s face and informational pamphlets. The older, blazered volunteer manning the desk tells me that she’s been volunteering for Williamson for three years and that she woke up at 3:30 to get here from her home on Long Island. Gesturing to the crowd of people dancing, she says she thinks this generation needs someone like Williamson to offer spiritual guidance.
“We’ve lost faith,” she tells me. “We’ve become a hate country. We need to be a love country … God willing, we will go back to what this country is about: love, love, peace, love.”
Some of the writhing dance-mass has been here at the Sony Music Hall in midtown since 6:00 a.m. — the lucky ones, who managed to nab spots for the first portion of the event, the Class, which, as the name implies, is a class, by celebrity fitness guru Taryn Toomey. Other, less fortunate guests only arrived at 7 a.m., for the rave portion. The Class mostly consisted of being guided through a series of exercises by Toomey, who was flanked by two assistants and a blond man with a djembe drum between his knees and who would periodically remind us to “Fuck it!” and “Feel it!” It culminated with her having everyone kneel down and pulse their arms to the sound of “Will You Be There,” the Michael Jackson song from Free Willy. I meditated for a moment on the nature of democracy.
A brief, informal survey of the crowd indicates that Toomey is a greater draw than Williamson for most of the attendees. One woman tells me that she has seen Williamson speak before and that she likes that someone from “that field” (spirituality) has entered the race. She doesn’t think Williamson will win, but she doesn’t think she’ll get in anyone’s way, either. “Some of these guys, it’s like, stick to the Senate, you know what I mean?”
Onstage, behind a DJ booth covered in vines, DJ Ean Golden plays pulsing EDM tracks, occasionally accompanied by a small brass band or, at one point, a didgeridoo. “Multicultural!” the MC roars by way of explanation.
A 45-year-old woman I’ll call Jane, who’s been sitting out the rave with me — “This is a lot,” she whispers in my ear at one point — tells me she’s a fan of Williamson. She’s been reading her work for ages and likes a lot of her political platform, which includes reparations for slavery, free college, and establishing a “Department of Peace.” And while she thinks this is probably a good way for Williamson to connect with a younger generation, she wonders how the “hippies and ravers” will respond to her, whether they’ll pay attention to what Williamson has to say. “I wonder how many of them are even registered to vote,” she shouts over the music, which is now deafening. “I see a lot of trust-fund kids and foreigners.”
After nearly two hours of ecstatic morning-rave, the pounding EDM beats finally stop. In the sudden silence, the MC proclaims that we need to “get hip to what’s going to balance us as a nation, as a world,” and Williamson appears onstage in a pale-blue blazer, black top, and black pants. Lots of people leave, presumably to go start their days, but the few dozen who remain are asked to sit on the ground and listen.
“I am Marianne Williamson, and I’m running for president of the United States,” she announces to raucous applause. She then tells us she would like to talk about the importance of dancing and explains that “there’s something about dancing where it literally shifts the molecules” of our bodies and the world around us. When we dance, she continues, we are brought into alignment with our own natural rhythms. People on the floor nod thoughtfully.
“We must do more now than just to dance as a way of escaping the darkness of the world,” she exhorts the crowd. And then, for emphasis, “We must dance now as rebellion against the darkness of the world.”
After speaking for 15 minutes about dance and nature and alignment, Williamson walks offstage to a standing ovation. The final grounding moment of the day — a guided meditation during which a woman chants the lyrics of “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield and plays Tibetan singing bowls — commences, and Jane gets up and leaves halfway through. I do the same shortly thereafter.
Outside, the sunlight shocks my retinas. My ears are still ringing. I ask a woman named Annie, whom I had met earlier, what she thought of the event and of Williamson. “I wish the workout had been more like a yoga thing,” she says, her nose scrunched in dismay. “But I loved Marianne! I’m going to spread the word.”
Then, after a pause: “But I don’t think the country is ready.”