How would you describe your religious identity?
I’m a Protestant, practising. I grew up with it, my mother was a very devout church goer, so we were in church every Sunday, a point of contention when I was a teenager, I guess probably I drifted back. As a young adult I moved to New York and I really kind of worshipped at brunch for quite a while and then sort of you know, in my mid 20s drifted back to church, I think my faith has grown immensely over the trials and tribulations of the last few years.
Is GB an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
Yeah, I think it strives to be. Obviously society is a big thing, as a nation, as a collective absolutely they strive to be, if you look at the many, many communities that are here. All you have to do is to go to Whitechapel, go to any of the many communities around and you can see that there’s definitely a tolerance. But I think that on an individual level it can be strained at times, but I think that the country as…..it’s very important for the country to believe that they’re religiously tolerant.
How easy is it for you to live in accordance with your faith in Great Britain? Are there any challenges, and if so, are they social, political or legal in nature?
Challenges? No, not really. Maybe if I was (practiced) another religion, but as a Protestant and this is a Protestant country I’ve not really found there to be any challenges. And we get all the religious holidays off here which we don’t anymore in the US. (I would say “The US stopped observing Easter and other religious holidays after several organisations like the ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union – sued successfully on the principle of the separation of church and state
How does your religion regard human rights?
Well, the faith that I grew up in – absolutely. I grew up in the United Church of Christ which was, had merged the Evangelical, Reformed and Congregational denominations in the late 1950s. Through its affiliate, the American Missionary Association, the denomination founded (many) of the historically black universities after the Civil War, they were at the forefront on Apartheid and then again on gay marriage. So they’ve been very much ahead of the general belief in the whole idea that we’re all created equal, they’ve been very much on the cutting edge of really being equal even before the society felt it was equal. The church that I attend here is the American International Church, which is supported by the Methodists, Presbyterians and the United Reform Church, so they’re all religions very much in forefront of HR. Our church is very involved with the International Justice Mission, an organisation which focuses on human trafficking and helping to free people. So yes, that’s been very important to me and very much a tradition in the belief system I have formed.
Does your group have a practical influence on human rights?
AIC actively supports the International Justice Mission, through fundraising. After a trip to Israel, the Mission committee at my church, decided to support, the Palestinian Bible Society, then obviously we do work locally. So there’s a soup kitchen which is based at the church on the back of the church on Whitfield Street . I’m the chair of the board, and then we also support with 6 other churches an organisation C4WS, known as the Cold Weather Shelter, which gives shelter every night of the week for a group of people from January through, usually first week in April as they’re ….on the way to housing, usually they’re working somewhere and are in counselling…they’re all in the process of being housed and getting their lives back on track, so we provide two meals…..hot dinner and breakfast, a bed. It’s interesting how many of them in the morning get up and go to work….and those are little ways we help for people who have found inequality, been abused, many of them are immigrants who came here with promises that were broken. And so you know there are many ways to contribute and help locally, but there’s so many HR battles to wage right now, but I like that we focus on something local, we focus on trying to help people internationally, and also human trafficking, which I think is the worst abuse of HR.
Does the State get the amount of intervention right in relation to religious freedom and practice?
No, it’s a slippery slope, because you know businesses operating as they saw fit 100 years ago meant 9 year olds went to work in factories, so I never believe…..it’s a balance, I never believe that anyone should be unfettered. We’re having the whole discussion now about whipping children, which is kind of interesting. Whereas what was done to me as a child, and almost everybody we know is now child abuse, so it’s good for society to keep an eye on what’s going on, as people will often repeat bad practises….that’s how I was raised, I’m fine, whatever….and so especially now we’ve got this amazing technology that allows us to do so many things, just to have businesses unfettered is a problem, we’re looking right now at what has happened in our Western economies as we’ve had these oligarchs rise up and unions and working people have been diminished in their power, and that is the heart of this inequality. I do think that there’s always a place for the State, the main thing for the State is to keep the game honest and sometimes it might have to err at little bit much. And what you find is when times are pretty good and people are feeling fairly secure economically the State can pull back a little bit. But at times like now when it’s very uncertain, you made need more State.
Should there be more regulation to protect the vulnerable in our society?
Yeah, protect certainly, we you think about people being beaten and exploited. You think about places in the Middle East where people go to work and their employers’ take their passports so they can’t leave and don’t get paid. That’s the big thing that I’ve just been reading about in the US – that more and more people, particularly undocumented people are going to the authorities because their employers, knowing they’re undocumented, people are stealing their labour. So yes there is protection, but I think that oftentimes it is better for the State to empower actors within the society than to do it themselves, because the State is not an adaptive, lithe creature; when it steps in, it’s a big step. So oftentimes I’d like to see it step in by empoweing actors in the arena, without the State actually sticking itself into it.
Is democracy a good thing? Does it make it easier to live in accordance with your faith?
You know I go back and forth on this, when an election is coming up, and I contrast with the US where there seems to always be an election, because there’s a mid-term election, a presidential election, then on the off years there are lots of times there’s a governor’s election, there’s almost always something to vote for. Which is one of the reasons why voter participation drops off, except the presidential election which is bigger. Especially if it’s like with Obama and Clinton, something exciting, so many people on the stage, then people want to come out and support that. But the lives of most people are affected by those local elections, in what they see and what they feel. I guess my concern here feels as if people feel very divorced from the people who represent them here. I’m not even sure who my MP is, I’ve just moved so…….
But is that down to the electoral system?
Well, when there’s only an election once every five years, because it’s so far off, if you’re party loses you are in the dark until the next election. People tend to be divorced from it because it’s so long before you can do anything about it, and because of the way that elections have run in the past, Blair was first elected in 1997, a big wave, excitement blah, blah, blah, some things do change, the economy gets better, but some of that has nothing to do with him and is just the world economy, and then he wins 2 more elections and then finally over some little frenemy type fight with Gordon Brown he leaves. By that time we’d been through the war and all these things had happened and people were tired of him, but they just felt that there was nothing we can do; as the Tories of that time, David Cameron looked like he was about 12 then, and who was the power before Cameron? Ian Duncan Smith looked like more of the same. This is where….the debate over Scotland, does England need some kind of provincial body that we’re more closely tied to…people don’t think of….at least the British people I know and have talked to, nobody thinks let me write to, let me call my MP, now it might be different in rural areas. It might be that they reach out to the local council, and that’s because of your council tax…
That’s interesting because the first past the post system is regarded as one which brings people closer to their MPs than other jurisdictions.
Could be, could be, because if I lived in Gloucester or somewhere it might be, because there’s not all that rush, but there’s so much going on in the lives of people here in London, if something was to go wrong I would have no idea where to start making some kind of a protest. I have 2 friends who are MPs and I might ask them………..this has happened to me what do you think I could do? But the fact that I as politically engaged as I have always been don’t know who my MP is in my new place, says a lot.
Does your faith mean that you feel you have a personal duty to vote?
Absolutely, people died for me to be able to vote.
What is the impact of majoritarian democracy on minorities, are there barriers to participation?
It’s interesting, Lani Guinier, (http://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10344/Guinier) a professor at Harvard was nominated to be the first African American woman attorney general and she wound up pulling out. (We’re now getting out first African American attorney general, Obama just nominated her last weekend.) Prof. Guinier did her seminal work on super majorities where you have minority groups, particularly in places like South Africa. Where you have a group of people who’d been shut out, and if you just do simple first past the post, they can be systemically excluded. In cases where you have a disadvantaged minority people, her work focused on the need to look at 2/3 and ¾ majorities to ensure the will of those minorities so they’re not constantly disenfranchised just by virtue of who they are. I think that is one of the short comings of democracy, she was pilloried for this work that was done, at the time, which is why she wound up withdrawing. It was seen as heretical against the bedrock of democracy. But I do think there are times when decisions are important enough and life effecting enough. I would have thought that they would have done that in Scotland, and made it that 2/3 or ¾ had to vote for independence. Because you don’t want a 52% majority to have that power…….it didn’t happen, but I was surprised when I heard the vote that it was just a simple majority to make this huge decision that would ramifications on the country for hundreds of years. And that’s one where I would have thought people would have said at least a 2/3 majority would be needed to unlock at 500 year old marriage, get a divorce.
Does it concern you that the House of Lords is unelected?
In some ways, it’s interesting because the Senate in the US, was not elected for many years, the House was elected and I think the Senate was picked by the State House – the State Upper House and the Governor. They felt that the representative was the person of the people but obviously they felt they’d be more populist and the Senators would be the “grown-ups”, they would give the children from acting crazy and doing too many crazy things. Now our Senators are elected State wide and in some ways, because you don’t have the same kind of checks and balances, the party who wins Parliament gets to do everything they want to do for the most part. It is kind of nice to have a body that is a sort of check, but isn’t only thinking about getting re-elected. That can run both ways though. If for example the prime minister was elected separately like the president, and like in the States nobody could snatch the most power, then I would feel more comfortable with the Upper House being elected, but right now it’s sort of like, there have been a couple of issues where they really stepped in and came up with some good things, because they were thinking of 50 years from now and not the election.
How do you feel about the presence of bishops in House of Lords?
You’ve still got a State religion. If you say the Church of England is the church of England and it is very much a part of who we are, we’re a Christian nation whatever, that’s how it is. If you don’t like it go and live somewhere else. So of course they would have bishops.
Would you like to see representatives of other faiths alongside them?
Yes, I would, but here’s the thing. If the Upper House decides that they’d like to open it up ….open it up. It’s a generous thing, but I don’t think anyone has a right to demand that. I don’t see where you could expect that if you’re a Muslim who moved to a nation which says that the Church of England is its official church and HM The Queen is the head of the Church. You move here and you say well why aren’t Muslims in the House of Lords, I’m not sure you’ve got a lot of ground to stand on. I think it is a good thing that they open it up because you get other view points and it just helps that you have…the more people in the room from different places the less likely you are to have ‘group think’ and all go off in a direction that doesn’t make sense.
Should Parliament have the final say in making and changing law? Should judges have power to strike down legislation?
This is why I like the House of Lords being the grown-ups who aren’t thinking of being re-elected, because if the Supreme Court could say no, that’s wrong and the law could be repudiated then that would be different, but right now it doesn’t always happen. In many cases the House of Lords have actually brought some balance. It’s too bad that they couldn’t stop that Iraq war vote.
Devolving power to the judiciary to strike down legislation would be good, but the question is how do you construct a judiciary. As you see from the US, since President Reagan there has been a rightward shift in the nominees to the court. And now they finally are at a tipping point, the decisions they have made have pretty much destroyed 70 years worth of thinking of equalities issues, on minority rights, human rights, political speech on money and politics. They have dismantled many of the things that were decided to make systems fairer.. The money, restrictions on contributions came out of Nixon, the whole Watergate thing, they had just vast amounts of money in suitcases that people were given to do all of these illegal things, so it was designed to shut it down. And now they say that money is speech so corporations, billionaires can give unlimited money, but unions can’t give as much money as they once were able to give. This gives the impression of a court that’s clearly representing the interests of the people who put them there. The whole Bush versus Gore where the justices used an argument that was a total contradiction of their past sentiments. It was a right-leaning Supreme Court that didn’t believe that states should be restrained by the Federal Government…so more or less, whatever a state wanted to do – unless it was in total contravention of US Federal law – they should be allowed to do it. This is what this Supreme Court believed, so they overruled that core sentiment in Bush vs. Gore in order to put who they wanted in the White House. When you see that, I would love to have a judiciary but I want to see how the judiciary is constructed before I go trying to give them final veto power.
How do you feel about the EU and devolution in Wales and Scotland?
(This interview took place prior to the Brexit vote.)
Let’s divide those two questions up. Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, let’s divide them up from the EU. I think that I’ve been to a meeting in both bodies. When you’ve brought together people who’ve had a history of war and they’ve decided that they are together on this piece of ground and the weapons they have can only destroy each other, so they are going to try to live together, you have to give them a mechanism to give voice to their grievances. I think that part of Nigeria’s problem is that they still have not dealt with the Biafran War. I went to a talk at the British Museum by Wole Soyinka. It was stirring to hear the questions of the child of people whose lives were disrupted by the war, and the hurt and the pain is still there. So in the Welsh Assembly we do a few things here in Wales that pertain only to Wales, it keeps us happy, it keeps us willing to stay in the union of the United Kingdom. The same with Scottish Parliament, hopefully Northern Ireland will one day get themselves together and get back, because it helps everyone deal with local issues that may be different from overriding UK issues. if that allows people to stay married, that’s great. I know couples who have two homes, because they had their kids and their memories of their first marriages, and they go back and forth but they don’t give up the roots that they planted very deeply, so when their kids come for the holidays they can stay at each other’s houses. They can stay married that way because they’re not having to give up everything from your past and take a risk on losing if the second or third marriage doesn’t work out. So that’s perfectly fine.
The EU I think is different, because obviously it’s a supranational rather than an intra….if you look at most of the 20th century, it was disrupted by wars in Europe. The wars changed and irrevocably impacted the 20th century. I think of my grandmother who passed away in 2015 at 96; her mother was pregnant with her as World War I ended. She was born after her father got home from the War. I would bet her mother was enormously excited, war is over, my husband is home, my baby is coming, all looks right with the world. But that baby would be born into a world in which by the time she was 25 she would have gotten married, had 3 kids, in the midst of the Great Depression and another World War when this first war was supposed to be the war to end all wars. And so it would be the early 1950s before my grandmother – in her 30s – would feel like phew, things are going to be good and getting better! So a great deal of the upheaval that marked the first third of her life because of wars in Europe, which the US got dragged into because as the War bled into the world you have to say well okay I’m a member of the world and I have to take a side. So the EU and the whole idea was I think if we trade together, make money together and do all this together then we’ll never make war together and I think this was the overriding thought, so if we have to put up with a few laws from Brussels to stop these people disrupting the world again, I can live with that. I think where the problem gets to be what kind of people we elect to that parliament. I would be looking at the same calibre of people who go to the House of Commons going to the EU Parliament, but it’s has tended to be more fringe people, so they’ve made it less serious by the kind of people elected. The principle is not one I would like to see people dismiss easily when you look at what can happen. If you think about it, if they had just been that much kinder to Germany at the end of World War I and that much more magnanimous in victory, how different the world could have been. I’m not one to just give up. It is a little annoying because I’ve got to worry about age discrimination, smoking, but when I first got here we could not have enjoyed that meal upstairs without having to eat a lot of smoke with it. And thank God for the EU, but when the law changed I didn’t believe people were going to observe it. Within 6 months it vanished, it was like America, you could go eat your food….every now and then you get EU directives which err on the side of craziness, but everything is cost/benefit and I think we have to weigh it against that.
What does your faith teach about people with power?
Well I was raised with great privilege comes even greater responsibility…..to be thoughtful about how you use the power you have, to be generous with the resources you have in terms of giving back and being fair and I think that’s extraordinarily important. I’ve been really vexed the last couple of years with this group of super, super, super rich people in the US, who are the Koch Brothers, who were left a fortune $3 billion, who have built that fortune to $30 billion and are spending $300-400 million a year to dismantle all of the little things that have kept working people and ordinary people engaged in the American experiment. Unions etc. And you wonder how much money is enough? I’m a Harvard Business School graduate so I’m definitely a Capitalist. I think that Bill Gates deserves every penny he’s made because he changed our world and came up with something new. He came up with something we didn’t even know we needed. I’m all for that and … if you come up with, you know, Facebook; I won’t begrudge that. I do begrudge people who make billions polluting the planet and making people work in unsafe conditions, so they can have another what? Plane, car, house? And now the Republicans are taking about getting rid of inheritance taxes, so they can permanently make the field unlevel in terms of moving forward. And I think we have terrible responsibility to do right, because so much of what happens to us, especially from where we start, is luck. The majority of women on the planet who look like me have no control over their bodies and may struggle to learn to read. And so I’m enormously lucky to have been born to the children of two college graduates, who were also enormously lucky to have been born the children of hardworking, aspirational parents in the middle of the depression. So I’m always aware of that and I would not belong to any spiritual group that doesn’t believe that there’s not great responsibility to give and to support. And that’s why I really like my church, because we’ve got Barclays bankers and hedge funder managers who tithe, and go to Gaza and go into people’s homes and they’ll come back and their whole world view on things is changed.
Do you think that Protestant Christians are still appropriately and proportionately represented?
Interesting, I’m not sure of the make-up….because religion plays such a small part, the Protestant religion here. I often laugh at irony that in a place where almost nobody goes to church, you get all of the religious holidays off. And in a place where almost everybody goes to church, the US, you don’t. I don’t really feel a lot of spiritual discussion here. I remember the whole debate with Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Darling, saying “We don’t do God.” Here I find there’s not a lot of discussion about religion, unless it’s anti-Islam. Spirituality seems to be very personal here…little “p” Protestant, but the funny thing is that the Protestant church in Europe was founded by the protesters – the people who didn’t want to go along with the orthodoxy of the time. But here in the UK it is the orthodoxy, so you know it’s not probably as true to its Protestant roots, when it becomes the religion of the establishment. Although the church here, in the occupying movement, although the people in St Paul’s didn’t react as they should have initially, I thought they finally embraced that movement and the beliefs of that movement. Several archbishops talked of it and whatever. So I think they’re trying, but I don’t really feel that the Protestant church plays a part in the societal life of this country in the way that it does in the US. Every now and then I have people who say ‘she’s goes to church’ almost like a description of a character flaw.
Is there sufficient distance between legislature and judiciary?
I don’t think I could really speak to that one.
How does the Protestant church help to challenge political decisions which it sees as problematic?
My church here does not, do political, and I think because we’re about 60 percent American, and American’s of all spectrums. Although many of the Republicans here are not aligned with the kind of Republicanism which has developed in the US. So we tend to be apolitical, because taking a stance would polarise the church. The closest we came was went a lot of people from the church went to the protest about the Iraq war, but that wasn’t an official church thing, the Pastor didn’t come. The denomination that I grew up in and remain a member of in the States is very active politically. President Obama was a member. We had a Free South Africa sign on the church in 1976, the pastor fought for gay marriages, before that he had responded to the AIDS crisis when many churches were ignoring it. There were often petitions passed around in church, we were free to sign or not sign. I liked that, but probably burnt out on it, it’s nice sometimes to just go to church, have a quiet moment and have a cup of tea and go home. I would like to see more politically active churches here, but I think that the church has to figure out how to reengage people with church first. Churches here are empty, I toured a few when I was trying to find one when I first came, some of them have like 5 people and they are all 90. Whereas throngs of young people are going to mosques. They’ve got to figure out how to reengage.
Do you think that public authorities understand and where appropriate accommodate the needs of practising Christians?
The hospitals have definitely tried to deal with everybody, Barts & The London has prayer rooms and chaplains at all of their hospitals. There has been an effort in the public infrastructure to try to accommodate religious belief, but I don’t feel that religion is an integral part of people’s thinking here. There is not a lot of spiritual thought.
Is it important to you always to act within State law? Are there circumstances which justify or necessitate breaking the law?
As I a member of society, it is important to respect the law. However, the whole US civil rights movement was based on civil disobedience to protest unjust laws; an unjust law is an unjust law. When the Iraq war protest broke out, they estimated we had ½ million to 1 million people in London on that Saturday. I remember that it was an unseasonably hot day in spring; it was such a long march that you could go into a bar, have a drink and re-join it. I called my sister in Los Angeles as things were wrapping up, she was watching the New York protest on TV. None of the London protest was reported on the news, no pictures. The US media “cropped” the protest to fit the frame; it was as if to say we are going to do this war and everybody is going along with it, except for these few rabble-rousers. If we had had Twitter then, it would have been a lot harder for them to crop the protest and tell everyone that most people were going along with the decision to go to war. That is what democracy is all about. Sometimes, the majority makes a stupid decision and the minority needs to agitate to say that you guys need to reconsider this.
Do you feel a moral obligation to speak out against injustices effecting third parties, especially the vulnerable?
Absolutely! It’s a hard thing to do, but the more privileged you are, the more you have to. But the people who are accepting the behaviour have to do something, as well. We look to the big and the powerful to speak for the vulnerable, but they have to get their own voice too. When you look at the fact that with all that is going on only a 1/3 of the people came out to vote. And when you look at the people who voted, the mad people, they went and voted for the people who put them in that position in the first place. Because they are scared and don’t see a life like they grew up with or anything better in the future, some of it is racially prejudiced and scared, and it all comes together. We have to find a way of giving the vulnerable a voice. That is what I most liked when I first met Barak Obama 20 years ago….what does a community organiser do? A community organiser doesn’t organise; they give people the power to organise themselves. And that to me is important – to help people tell their own story and stand up for themselves; it’s never as authentic from other people. In the US there are various campaigns for a living wage for fast food workers that have been held in various in the city. It helps having people like me join…..but when you hear the stories from the people involved and being interviewed in the media. There was a couple, who both work at Wall Mart, they each make $8.21 or something ridiculous each for 30 hours a week, they had total raises in three years of 85 cents more an hour. And now Wall Mart opens on Thanksgiving in the afternoon, so they can’t have Thanksgiving Dinner with their kids, one of them has to work. To hear their story was far more powerful than me saying that we should fight for a living wage.
Do you think that in GB the law is applied equally to all citizens, or do some groups receive preferential or prejudicial treatment?
I went to an Old Bailey trial once and saw that they had an interpreter for the defendant, which I thought was very good. Obviously there is still racism and classism, there are ways in which the police wouldn’t treat someone with a cut glass accent and a Saville Row suit, they would still treat them as gentleman regardless of what they had done. The public body I have probably come into contact with most is the NHS, and they are definitely not equal in how it treats people, it is a postcode lottery. If you are in the East End, Whitechapel or somewhere, where there is one GP for 8000 people, versus Bloomsbury where I am and there is one GP every block, your experience in the Rule of Law in the most important thing to you, your health, is going to be very different.
What do you think of the general trend towards an increase in police powers? Should ordinary provisions of the Rule of Law be suspended in certain circumstances, to enable them to deal more effectively with terrorist threats?
I would never be for the police entering premises without warrants, obviously I want to help the police and deal with terrorists, but I don’t want them coming in and turning my house upside down, just because I had someone suspected of being a terrorist over for Sunday lunch. I was in Whitechapel when the war first started, the police was just sweep through the area and round up groups of Muslim men whenever something happened. I’m not for that.
Are there are any legal rules which you find restrictive?
I’d probably like to be able to vote in a local election, which I can’t because I am not a citizen, despite the amount of Council Tax I pay!
Is there anything which you would like to add?
I think the country could stand a written Constitution, to me, when you don’t write it down you don’t want people to know what their rights are under it. And I think the process of a Constitutional Convention to write it would engage people. It happened in Illinois when I was in middle school and it was very powerful.
Connie founded JAX Global Consulting Ltd in March 2016, after serving as General Manager – UK & Europe for Fashion Fair Beauty Products Ltd from November 2012. JAX Global is a strategic consultancy specialising in crafting and executing growth and restructuring strategies – with particular expertise in underserved and multicultural markets
An accomplished operating executive and business advisor with more than 25 years of experience across sectors, Connie served as Operating Executive for several portfolio companies of Stargate Capital’s Trapezia Fund – the first institutionally-backed fund in the UK to invest in women-owned businesses. She served as the start-up Chief Executive of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and as the Chief Executive of Barts & the London Charity. Before coming to the UK in 2002, she served President & CEO of TCA Health – a family founded health and social care organisation. She began her career as a financial analyst in the Public Finance/ Infrastructure Group of Credit Suisse and later as an associate for Jones Lang LaSalle.
Connie brings critical business knowledge, team leadership and organisational skills and an extensive global network. She is an honours graduate of Fisk University (USA). She has a graduate diploma from the London School of Economics and a MBA from Harvard University.