Storming Caesars Palace

Activist Ruby Duncan leads a grassroots movement of mothers who challenged Presidents, the Vegas Mob, and everyday Americans to rethink their notions of the “Welfare Queen.”

woman and child standing outside blue car
Funding Initiative
Diversity Development Fund
Open Call
filmmaker Hazel Gurland-Pooler

Hazel Gurland-Pooler

Hazel Gurland-Pooler has contributed to documentary television and film production for more than ten years, including producing Storming Cesar’s Palace, which chronicles the activism of poor mothers in Las Vegas. She directed and produced a season of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and co-produced two of the six hours of the Peabody Show more Award-winning and Emmy Award-nominated series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.

Gurland-Pooler was the coordinating producer on the international PBS documentary Brazil In Black & White, which was nominated for IDA Award. She began her career at HBO, and worked on documentaries for PBS’ Frontline, AMC, ABC News, The History Channel, A&E, the National Geographic Channel, the Travel Channel, and the Sundance Channel. Gurland-Pooler received her M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2001. Show less

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The Film

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas — until now. Storming Caesars Palace chronicles the life of Ruby Duncan, a cotton-picker 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 creates 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 Universal Basic Income campaign in 1969, 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 founds 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 appoints 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.