She began the day testifying at a federal immigration hearing on behalf of the leftist former ambassador from Grenada, and she finished with six hours of District bar hopping among the "Bumpies," the black upwardly mobile professionals who may be crucial to her uphill effort to win a spot on the D.C. City Council.
It was not a typical day on the campaign trail, but then Josephine Butler, 64, the chairman of the D.C. Statehood Party, is not a conventional candidate.
She is a sharecropper's daughter who came to the District as a married girl of 14, and has been a lifelong community activist here since the 1930s, a former waitress, tobacco picker, laundry worker, union officer, welfare recipient, perennial picketer and government employe -- until she was fired and later denied rehiring in what she believes was blacklisting for political activities in the 1940s.
Now, Butler, whose income is less than $10,000 a year, is trying to assemble a winning coalition of organized labor, poor people, Hispanics, leftists and Democrats in her third attempt to win an at-large council spot. She is running in a topsy-turvy race for the seat held for 15 years by Republican Jerry Moore. Moore lost the GOP primary to former school board member Carol Schwartz and is running as a write-in candidate for the seat he now holds.
With Moore and Schwartz splitting Republican votes and with her strong support from labor unions, Butler -- despite her lack of citywide government experience and a record that opponents see as too liberal -- believes she has a strong chance to win one of the two at-large seats up for grabs Nov. 6. Democratic incumbent John Ray is considered a shoo-in for reelection, while the second at-large seat is in effect reserved by City Charter for a non-Democratic candidate.
"She has excellent prospects of winning," said Theodis Gay, former D.C. Democratic State Committee chairman, who supports Butler. "She has always been on the right side of issues . . . and she is a woman of conscience and conviction, and tremendous integrity" who Gay believes would have long ago been elected to office if she were not part of a "fringe" party.
Butler has garnered endorsements from virtually every major labor union in the city, and from the politically powerful Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, representing gay voters.
Her candidacy is a major test of the political clout of labor, which has backed her enthusiastically, but without the customary support of the Democratic organization. That organization is officially neutral, although six Democratic council members have supported their colleague Moore.
The AFL-CIO's Metropolitan Washington Council, with a mailing list of 90,000 District union members and a telephone bank staffed by up to 20 union volunteers a night, has pledged money and manpower. Most of the $15,626 that Butler has spent came from unions, and she hopes to double the amount by election day, which would still leave her far short of the amounts raised by Moore and Schwartz.
"She has organized unions. She has organized tenants. She has fought for the environment. She has fought for the underprivileged and the dispossessed -- before it was fashionable," Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council, said Friday night to a Butler fund-raising party in Glover Park attended by 25 members of the Democratic Socialists of America. DSA also has endorsed Butler.
While Williams spoke, the party goers were writing checks for $10 or $25 to "Butler '84" as the beaming candidate looked on during one of more than a dozen limousine stops on her "D.C. Night Tour" that hit upscale watering holes from the Southwest waterfront to Georgetown to gay bars in Northeast.
"You can get awful puffed-up listening to these big introductions" describing her past civic activism, the soft-spoken Butler told the DSA gathering, "I don't have to tell you what I stand for. You already know. But I've spent a lot of time trying to bring people together, and I want to continue."
What Butler stands for is a relatively traditional list of liberal Democratic causes, led by a strong commitment to rent control and tenants' rights, and a commitment to strengthening the City Council as a "balance" to the power of the mayor.
"I don't think Mayor Marion Barry has done bad at all," Butler said in an interview, "But people think the mayor is strong, too strong, and the City Council is weak, and people want to see a balance.
The council, Butler said, is often uninformed about how Barry is running the city, and therefore is forced to pass emergency bills or is pressed into other 11th-hour actions. "I can do better 'cause I am nosy. More nosy than most people," Butler said, "and I will get out there and see what's going on in the city."
Butler's Statehood Party was born in the era of civil rights and antiwar struggles, and it was a small but significant voice in the push for self-determination for D.C. government.
Butler, who is a part-time secretary for an advisory neighborhood commission, earned her reputation as a "street activist" in the 1960s as an organizer of efforts ranging from neighborhood school issues to opposition to the proposed North Central freeway that would have destroyed working-class neighborhoods, to support for Angela Davis, the Wilmington 10, and other perceived victims of discrimination.
"When I grew up in Prince George's County, the black families had to build our own schools because we couldn't go to the white school. You learn a lot about society, and social conscience," she said.
As a young woman, Butler helped her former husband organize a union among black laborers, and also heard the late Paul Robeson speak -- "which opened my eyes" to fighting injustice, she said.
Butler said she realizes that detractors think she lacks the experience and toughness for the job. "People think I am a nice lady, but they wonder if I can be tough," she said, "My friends know how tough I am. You don't have to yell at people. When people used to go yell about an issue, I'd just go out and get things done. That's me."