"Storming Caesars Palace" chronicles the extraordinary story of Ruby Duncan and her journey from boisterous protestor to a strategic organizer to a White House adviser. AS she led a grassroots movement fighting for a basic income guarantee for families, challenging presidents and the Las Vegas Mob, everyday Americans had to rethink their notion of the "Wellfare Queen" – a derogatory stereotype of women who allegedly misuse or collect excess public assistance through fraud or manipulation.
The film will make its television debut on PBS's Emmy Award-winning documentary anthology series INDEPENDENT LENS on March 20, 2023, at 9 p.m. "Storming Caesars Palace" will also be available to stream on the PBS app.
After losing her job as a hotel worker in Las Vegas due to a workplace accident, Duncan went on welfare, and discovered firsthand the stigma and harassment by an overzealous welfare department.
In response, Duncan joined a welfare rights group, alongside Mary Wesley and Alversa Beals, to fight for adequate income, dignity and justice. They, along with low-income mothers across the country, formed the National Welfare Rights Organization with the support of George Wiley and Frances Fox Piven. Together, they introduced a guaranteed adequate income campaign which, with feminist Gloria Steinem at their side, became part of the Democratic platform in 1972.
When the Las Vegas mothers were slashed from the welfare rolls, they launched "Operation Nevada," and led an army 1,500 strong – including Ralph Abernathy and Jane Fonda – down the Las Vegas Strip, taking on the Vegas mob and storming into Caesars Palace, shutting it down.
Later, Duncan formed Operation Life, one of the first women-led community corporations in the nation, bringing medical services and meaningful jobs to her Westside neighborhood. With the success of the movement, Duncan became influential in Washington, eventually leading to her appointment to President Carter's Council on Economic Opportunity in 1979.
Through interviews with Duncan, her family, and key players in the movement such as Gloria Steinem, filmmaker Hazel Gurland-Pooler weaves together a story of the brave fight for justice, dignity, an adequate income, and democratic participation for low-income mothers.
Based on the groundbreaking book by Annelise Orleck, Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty, the documentary spotlights an unsung leader and movement, whose stand for America's principles of justice, inclusion and opportunity for all continues to shape the calls for economic justice that ring today.