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Interview: Douglas M. Stringer on the need for Democrats—and Black Catholics—in the pro-life movement

Douglas M. Stringer sits down with BCM to discuss his faith journey, his career in politics and law, and his new role with Democrats for Life of America.

Since 1999, Democrats for Life of America has advocated for the Whole Life Ethic within the Democratic Party, often putting themselves at odds with the larger constituency on the issue of abortion. Douglas M. Stringer, a political consultant and Black Catholic in the DC area, joined the organization as an outreach director in 2021.

He recently spoke with Nate Tinner-Williams on the importance of womb-to-tomb advocacy, the shifting climate of abortion discourse, and the need to find common ground as the political climate continues to polarize.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nate Tinner-Williams: Let me get started just with a little bit on your background. Where are you from and what is your faith background?

Douglas M. Stringer, JD: I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky as the youngest of six children. I’m a cradle Catholic of African-American descent, and that’s something that I'm very, very proud of. Regarding that, and in terms of my faith journey, I would say that I'm a lot stronger in my Catholic faith now than I had been in previous years.

I went to Catholic school from first grade all the way to 12th grade at Christ the King Elementary School, which I guess you could say was a segregated Black Catholic school, even though segregation had ended on paper by the time I came around. I also attended the all-Black Catholic parish, Christ the King, and then went on to Trinity High School. That was kind of a culture shock for me, because it was a more affluent, predominantly White Catholic school.

But, you know, I was blessed to have parents who were able to provide that education for me, and it was a great solid education that I received. I graduated high school in 1986, and I matriculated to Howard University. I spent my freshman year there, and I always say, you know, even though I'm not a Howard graduate, I am a Howard alum. That freshman year was one of the best years of my life—and that's probably why I didn't graduate from there.

NTW: I see!

DMS: Yeah, so I went back home to Kentucky, and I received my bachelor's in political science at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. After graduation, I worked for a little while at different jobs before I went on to work for the Congressman out of Louisville, Representative Mike Ward. While working as a staff assistant in the Congressman’s district office in Louisville, there was a part of me that always wanted to come back up here to Washington, DC. That was a major goal, and working for the Congressman was part of that plan. I was thinking that he was going to be reelected, but unfortunately, he was not. I decided to come up here anyway.

I did some work with the AARP when I first moved in 1997. And then from AARP, I moved on to a private law firm, the Session Law Firm. The principal is Warner H. Session. He is a prominent lawyer and lobbyist here in the DMV area. I’ve worked at the firm for over 20 years now.

NTW: What kind of law do they practice?

DMS: The firm’s main focus is on government relations and small business development. That's a major part of what the practice is. In regards to my particular role in the firm, even though I am a trained lawyer, I am not a member of the bar. I identify more as a government relations professional.

I had actually spent a little bit of time at the University of Louisville studying public relations as well, basically working towards a second bachelor's. From the congressman's office, I came up here, and then when I was at AARP, I decided to go back to school, and started taking classes at the University of the District of Columbia in public administration. Then I put that on hold as well, to go to law school, and that's when I received my law degree. All while working with the law firm.

NTW: Okay, gotcha. So, as a government relations guy, how did you get involved with the pro-life movement? I know that part of that, obviously, is related to lobbying and that sort of thing.

DMS: Well, being a Catholic and a staunch Democrat—quite a partisan Democrat—it was one of those things that kind of grated against me. It was always a moral question for me, because you always hear that “Any good Catholic shouldn't vote for a pro-abortion candidate.” Things of that nature. So I was looking for a way to really express my political beliefs, and express them in a way that would be in tune with my spiritual beliefs.

NTW: So you would say that you were always pro-life?

DMS: Yes. I grew up in an environment where, you know, it really wasn't a question about whether, if someone became pregnant, they were going to terminate that pregnancy or not. And quite honestly, and I'm sure you probably would agree, Black Catholics and the Black community in general, tend to be more socially conservative in a lot of areas that a “normal Democrat”, as typecasted in modern society, would probably see as contrary to Democrat beliefs.

NTW: Yeah.

DMS: So I was never raised in an environment that would have been supportive of, for example, abortion on demand.

NTW: I see. How did that play into your career in government relations? Was there a connection there?

DMS: Well, that was always a connection. Every time I would vote, especially for president, or for a Democrat candidate who was staunchly pro-choice, it would be something that was in the back of my mind. So that's why I looked for ways to have those two parts of my beliefs gel with one another.

NTW: And was Mike Ward pro-life?

DMS: At that time, I don't think that was even an issue. Not as big of an issue at the time, in 1996. During that time, you know, even though abortion was an issue, you still had a lot of pro-life Democrats. That was still on the scene, and it just wasn't the litmus test that it is now. So to be honest with you, I really can't say whether he was very staunchly pro-life or staunchly pro-choice. I do know that he tended to be more liberal in terms of his economic beliefs.

NTW: So as the political climate has shifted, as things have become more polarized, how has that affected you?

DMS: A lot of ways. It seems to me that, in terms of my being a Democrat, I see that the Republicans have taken this issue and completely and totally manipulated it. I really don't think that Republicans are so much pro-life as they are anti-abortion.

With Democrats for Life, one of our philosophies is “Pro-life for the Whole Life.” So, you know, while we may be against abortion, we're also against the death penalty. And we're also advocates for the elderly, for social programs such as prenatal care, and for ensuring economic conditions that would provide children with the opportunities they need to actually live and thrive. All of the social programs that the Republicans tend to reject.

If they were really truly pro-life, they would be looking at some of those programs to help those children that they say that they want to save. But they're just using it as a political issue. They're selling the public a bill of goods, I believe. That's my personal belief.

NTW: I understand. Could you tell me how you got involved with Democrats for Life?

DMS: Well, like I said, I’d been on a search for organizations or for ways to have some congruence between my personal beliefs and my political beliefs, and I just came across DFLA.

Maybe around as far back as the second Bush administration, I believe that it was then that DFLA really started gaining some prominence nationwide, and making a name for themselves. I really didn't get really active with the organization until this past year, when I started working with them.

NTW: What prompted that?

DMS: On the one hand, I wanted to really further my cache as a political consultant and government relations professional. That was one of my objectives. And I thought: “What better way to execute that objective than through something that I believed in?”

NTW: Absolutely. And what has your time been like with the organization so far?

DMS: I love the staff there; they’ve been great to work with. And it's really been quite fascinating to get to know members across the country. I'm really surprised at the actual number of pro-life Democrats out there. By that same token, I'm a little disheartened with the Democratic Party as a whole. In terms of how pro-life Democrats are really given short shrift.

One example is that DFLA has been trying to get an audience with Jaime Harrison, the Democratic National Committee chair, for the longest time, to try to get his ear on our thoughts for a more inclusive Democrat agenda. We've yet to get that meeting. It just doesn't seem fair that pro-life Democrats aren't given the voice I feel they deserve in the party.

NTW: Was there a time when DFLA had more standing in the party?

DMS: I believe so. When you would you see senators like Ted Kennedy, who had very strong pro-life beliefs. Senator Bob Casey, was until recently a very strong pro-life Democrat. Even President Biden embraced those beliefs. There seems to have been a stronger voice for pro-life Democrats in the party in the past. And it also seems as though that voice was slowly but surely drowned out.

NTW: What do you think caused that?

DMS: Money.

NTW: Oh?

DMS: I believe, yeah. A lot of the pro-choice organizations and political action committees really worked hard at mobilizing for their causes and they've really gained a stronghold on a lot of the issues. And for the party itself, in terms of establishing the official platform and things of that nature.

NTW: So the whole dark money and corporatism issue is bipartisan.

DMS: Absolutely. It absolutely is.

NTW: So I do want to ask you about this new draft from the Supreme Court that has leaked. Obviously, that's the story of the day across the nation, and there have been lots of reactions from Democrat politicians. What do you think the place of Democrats for Life is in this moment?

DMS: I believe the place for DFLA specifically is to help dial the temperature down on both sides. Since the draft has come out, I've seen total jubilation from the Republican side, the anti-abortion side. And I've seen absolute, total rage from people who are more dramatically left. I think the role DFLA has now is to create balance and actually give both parties a chance to look at the nuance of the situation. We're not going to completely agree on everything, but there is always an opportunity to reach out to the other side to see if you could try to reach some sort of common ground.

And concerning the actual draft itself, people may be happy with the pending doom of Roe, but I don't think they should spike the football just yet. There are a lot of things that could happen in the meantime with that ruling and other things could happen as a result of that ruling.

And again, outside of life issues, I am a staunch Democrat. So I have very, very strong Democratic, liberal policy positions that are in line with my Democrat colleagues.

NTW: On life issues, it’s mostly just abortion, right?

DMS: Absolutely, in regards to the other side. However, for pro-life Democrats like myself, I would say that abortion is not the only thing that matters. Like I said, and I believe this is very important to stress: just because someone is anti-abortion does not mean that they are pro-life. Because if you are anti-abortion and pro-death penalty, for example, you are not pro-life. Period.

There's no way that you could call yourself pro-life if you're not working just as hard to abolish the death penalty as to overturn Roe v. Wade. That's my personal belief.

NTW: So for you, what would the ideal outcome be of this whole Roe v. Wade situation?

DMS: Well, if it indeed is overturned and turned back to the states, I believe that's an opportunity for Congress to really put their money where their mouth is, in terms of actually funding those social programs that are needed for people to actually make the choice to keep a life, to raise a life, and to raise a healthy life—to give that life the opportunity to thrive as an American citizen.

Where’s the funding for prenatal care? Where's the expansion of the Child Tax Credit? Where's the expansion of funds for young working mothers? That, I believe, is our opportunity, and should be our focus moving forward.

NTW: And what would you say generally is the future of the pro-life Democrat movement?

DS: I believe that the future is a bright one, in terms of being confident that progress will be made—to actually get the pro-life Democrat voice heard. Because if we stay on top of the social issues I just mentioned, I believe that would create more chances for life in general.

NTW: What role do you think Black Catholics have to play in the pro-life Democrat movement?

DS: Oh, I believe the Black Catholic role is essential. Because we’re actually on the front lines of the whole issue in the first place. And as Catholics, we have our spiritual beliefs that our lives are not our own. That we don't belong to ourselves, but we belong to God. With that comes the responsibility of treating your fellow man how you would want to be treated.

Black Catholics have been at the forefront of many issues, from the Civil Rights Movement on, and this is about civil rights and human rights—life in and of itself, but not only abortion. It's important that Black Catholics are mainly pro-life for the whole life. And abortion is not the only issue that should be highlighted, because there's a racial discrepancy in the death penalty as well. We need to look at that. And there are racial discrepancies in the healthcare industry in general. That's something that really needs to be looked at.

I think that Catholic Social Teaching is something that Black Catholics have been on the forefront of and actually are leaders of in the Church right now. We need to really get back to those doctrines. It's important for us to really live a Matthew 25 gospel.

NTW: Amen. That’s all I have for you. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

DMS: It's been an honor to speak with you.

Those interested can find more information about DFLA here. Additionally, the DFLA Education Fund’s annual $2,500 essay contest for full-time students aged 17-26 is ongoing through June 30th.

DFLAEF Essay Contest

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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