INDEPENDENT LENS: Storming Caesars Palace
Premieres Monday, March 20, 2023 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / PBS App
INDEPENDENT LENS "Storming Caesars Palace" chronicles the life of Ruby Duncan, an activist who fights the welfare system and ends up a White House advisor. It all begins when she loses her job due to a workplace accident and goes on welfare, where she discovers firsthand the stigma and harassment by an overzealous welfare department.
With Mary Wesley and Alversa Beals, Ruby joins a welfare rights group to fight for an adequate income, dignity, and justice. They, along with low-income mothers across the country, form the National Welfare Rights Organization with the support of George Wiley and Frances Fox Piven.
Together they introduce a guaranteed adequate income campaign which, with feminist Gloria Steinem at their side, becomes part of the Democratic platform in 1972. When the Las Vegas mothers are slashed from the welfare rolls, they launch “Operation Nevada,” and lead an army 1,500 strong—including Ralph Abernathy and Jane Fonda—down the Strip into Caesars Palace, shutting it down.
Later, Ruby forms Operation Life, one of the first women-led community corporations in the nation bringing medical services and meaningful jobs to her Westside neighborhood. From a boisterous protestor to a strategic organizer, Ruby wants lasting change, and President Carter appointed her to his Council on Economic Opportunity.
Based on a groundbreaking book, "Storming Caesars Palace" spotlights an unsung leader and movement whose stand for America’s principles of justice, inclusion, and opportunity for all challenged notions of the “welfare queen” and continues to shape the calls for economic justice that ring today.
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Producer/Director: Hazel Gurland-Pooler. Producer: Nazenet Habtezghi. Edited by Sunita Prasad. A co-production of Gurland Documentaries, LLC, Independent Television Service, Firelight Media and Black Public Media, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
"When I began filming with Ruby Duncan 15 years ago, her story of courage and activism truly inspired me,” said director Hazel Gurland-Pooler. "As an adoptee, Ruby’s determination to take care of her children—even mobilizing a grassroots anti-poverty movement to provide for all the children in her community—proves how transformative ‘Mother Power’ can be. Low-income mothers are often ridiculed in our society and stereotyped in the media, but I knew PBS was the perfect place to shift the narrative so that the mothers of the welfare rights movement could be recognized as visionary political strategists, standing up for America’s principles of justice, opportunity, and democracy for all. INDEPENDENT LENS’s no barrier to entry—that everyone can see this film for free—allows access to the widest audience to learn about how an ordinary group of women led one of the most extraordinary Black feminist movements in U.S. history, providing a path to an equitable future.”