♪♪ [soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ [scooter clanks] - Last night in Las Vegas, 200 people on welfare, half of them children, marched into the Stardust Hotel.
They walked past the gambling casino and the slot machines and sat down in the dining room.
They ordered, they ate, but they didn't pay.
and they said they'd do it again.
- My advice for poor women in this country: you gotta get out and talk about your problem.
You gotta be strong.
Don't take no for an answer.
♪ ♪ Somethin' need to be done.
And we know that we have a problem... - Mm-hmm.
- In this country right now.
♪ ♪ Poor people have no voice.
♪ ♪ "You poor, you stupid.
You don't have an education."
That's what they say.
But poor women that have children, us, we surprised a whole lotta people.
- Nice to meet you.
- Ruby Duncan from Las Vegas, one of our civil rights icons and my guest tonight.
- It's an honor to meet you.
- Thank you.
- A real honor.
- It's an honor to meet you.
I remember your husband.
- Ms. Duncan, let me just say what an honor it is to greet you.
[indistinct chatter] - You know, mothers will do anything for their children.
My first name is Ruby.
Last name is Duncan.
[funky music] - ♪ [singer vocalizing] ♪ - You can make a stimulus.
You can print money.
If money really grew on trees, why not give more free money?
- It's not free money.
When you go buy something, you're a taxpayer.
- ♪ You know it ain't right ♪ - I believe we have a duty to end welfare as we know it.
- And a whole bunch of old, rich, white men decidin' poor people are gettin' too much money and they takin' it away.
- ♪ Ain't gonna take it ♪ - We're going to tighten the eligibility standards to eliminate those who are receiving welfare fraudulently.
- We are not the cheaters.
The cheaters are those that should be making sure that the poor children in this country survive.
- ♪ We're tired of your nonsense ♪ ♪ We all have the right to survive ♪ ♪ We gotta let the powers that be know ♪ ♪ You know it ain't right ♪ ♪ With all of our might, we gonna fight ♪ ♪ Fight for what's right ♪ ♪ Yeah ♪ ♪ We ain't gonna take it ♪ [laughter] - This is the only picture of my youth.
- When I was 19 at a state fair in Tallulah.
- It's beautiful, Grandma.
- Now look at this one here.
I used to wear them-- - That's a great picture.
That's a great picture.
- That picture--let me see.
Ooh, I love this photo.
Ma, look at this.
- That's the best one.
- I love this.
- That one.
- That's you.
- Me and George Wiley.
- It's one my wall.
Well-- - [gasps] Oh, no she didn't.
- Yes, she did.
- No, she--[laughs] "Is your power bill too high?"
[laughter] - Ooh, Lord, I look rugged.
Well, that was what this is all about.
We needed the help.
I had to get on welfare for that time so we could make it.
[solemn music] - When we wanted something, like, "Mom, can we get this?"
My mother would explain.
"I don't have the money.
I need money to buy food to feed you all."
And I was like, "Oh, God.
I don't want to hear this again."
But she would explain.
- Where'd you get these pictures?
- [indistinct] - Everybody in the neighborhood just about was gettin' it.
We'll--we'll-- we'll crack on 'em.
You know, we'll-- we'll laugh at 'em.
But vice versa.
You know, they got us too.
We didn't understand the structure of the welfare system.
♪ ♪ - It was very hard... - That's not my brother.
- Making sure that they had food to eat, a place to stay.
♪ ♪ The Welfare Department, they talk down.
They belittle you.
- They have an impression about all these matters being capable of being solved by the federal government, which, of course, is just not realistic.
- This has a bad effect on the rest of the society because someone who is working says, "Well, gee, "why should I be working if, uh-- "uh, the neighbor next door can just sit at home doing nothing and take in welfare?"
- Who is going to say to a welfare mother who's had three or four illegitimate children who are now charges of the state, "We're very sorry, but we will not be able to allow you to have any more children"?
[applause] - The upper class, politicians, they really don't understand poor women like me.
♪ ♪ I met my husband at a birthday party.
I had just had Sondra.
And Sondra began crying and I had to go in the bedroom to take care of her.
[soft upbeat music] Roy Duncan, he said, "I'll take care of the baby."
I say, "That's okay.
I can take care of my baby."
He said, "No, I want to take care of the baby."
[cheers and applause] He and I got married.
[glasses clink] And we lived a okay life.
Matter of fact, we lived a good life.
He was a great father to my children.
[basketball thumping] - How can you not respect a man that marries your mom, accept all her children-- she had six children.
And I always admired that.
[somber music] ♪ ♪ But I remember a lot of big arguments.
It made me nervous.
[indistinct shouting] - He'd be sittin' there arguin' at me and I'm sittin' there lookin', sayin' to myself, "What the world?"
♪ ♪ Then he'd become kind of, uh, mean and went to slappin' me around, so I couldn't take that.
♪ ♪ I'd go to work at the hotels.
My face would be black and blue.
I grabbed my children up.
- My mother got a divorce, so we went to the projects.
♪ ♪ - I worked at the Sahara Hotel as a short-order cook.
I went to work at 2:00 in the afternoon.
At 5:00, I had to have 1,500 salads.
♪ ♪ The two guys which fried eggs and made bacon and stuff like that, they had a half a can of fried-- you know, the grease that they would pour off the food.
[griddle sizzling] They were taking it over and spilled it.
Well, I'm comin' back with these big platters, and I didn't see the grease.
And all of a sudden, I steps in the grease and down I went and all the food all over the place.
And I fractured my shoulder.
I fractured my hip.
I was in so much pain.
I went to the emergency room.
I could not go back to work.
- That's how we ended up on public assistance.
When my mother told us, I was like, "Oh, my God."
♪ ♪ - We were only gettin', like, $120, and we had to pay $60 for rent.
♪ ♪ It was not enough money to really live.
♪ ♪ - I'm using this to do the fruit salad.
I'ma put all my fruit in there.
- Look at all this food.
- Look at that.
Mama, do you remember-- I never forgot this.
You would buy hamburger.
[chuckles] - Oh, my God.
- And Mama--I said, "Mama, can I get a bite?"
[Ruby chuckles] And you took that one hamburger and you shared it with all seven of us.
It was amazing.
- We just couldn't take a big bite.
[both chuckle] - Yeah, I mean, I remember just bitin' and then you bitin' and I'm bitin'.
- And you just had-- - "Not such a big bite."
- I thought-- because we were too poor.
We didn't have any money.
We was on welfare and the county commodities, which were government cheese and-- - Not to be sold or exchanged.
- There you go.
We didn't have-- we seriously didn't have anything to eat, 'cause that's when I was makin' up cornbread with just plain water and flour and frying it with Vaseline.
- Vaseline grease.
♪ ♪ - There were days... mm, there were days we didn't have anything to eat but cornmeal and onion.
And--and sometime I had to borrow the onion to make the cornmeal taste better with the fried grease when I did have some fatback of bacon.
♪ ♪ [sniffles] ♪ ♪ - Well, you loses everything.
You loses your rights, your dignity, and everything else because you got to go... drop your guard and ask.
♪ ♪ - Most of the women in the project didn't wanna say they were on welfare, because being on welfare, they felt like it's just demeaning.
♪ ♪ - When we talk about welfare, it could refer to any number of different things.
Social Security program, unemployment compensation, tax breaks.
Any kind of government assistance to the American people is welfare.
But the term "welfare" has become closely identified with the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
[peppy orchestral music] - The state and federal governments provide monthly cash payments to provide for children who have lost their breadwinners.
- There had long been activists for what were called "mothers' pensions."
That was an argument that began in the early 20th century, the idea being that the work that mothers do in the home is socially valuable and economically valuable.
[soft upbeat music] And then in 1935, the Social Security Act included aid to dependent children.
But they left out domestic workers, which meant they left out the majority of women of color.
♪ ♪ - Beginning in the early 1950s, more and more African American women began to apply for welfare assistance, and that is when we begin to see a real stigma associated with welfare.
♪ ♪ Although the welfare rolls were always made up of more white women than Black women, welfare became controversial when Black women started being seen as the primary recipients of welfare assistance.
- That shift is really important.
Suddenly we have a story that people are poor because they are not working hard or they're making bad choices or they're lazy.
- We begin to see people talking about our tax dollars supporting people who don't want to work.
[vacuum whirring] [laid-back jazz music] - Mattie Grace works as a maid in a Las Vegas hotel, but that's not enough.
She needs welfare to make ends meet.
- Las Vegas was a seasonal hiring town in those days.
It was kind of a precursor to the gig economy where we are now-- they hired people, but they hired them as temporary workers.
So the greatest beneficiaries of welfare in Nevada were the casinos, who could lay people off and help them to get on public assistance so they wouldn't leave town... and the state itself because then they had a steady, low-wage workforce.
[soft tense music] - The economics for us was zero.
♪ ♪ - Nevada had some of the lowest benefits in the country.
- Well, they better get someone in there who can give them good fiscal recommendations.
- Largely because of a man named George Miller.
- George Miller was the Nevada State Director of Welfare.
- There wasn't a bona fide person, in our opinion, that we cut off that shouldn't have been cut off.
- He would just find reasons to make it hard for mothers.
- Miller had grown up as a poor person himself.
And I guess he had pulled himself up by his bootstraps and figured that everybody else should do that as well.
♪ ♪ - We didn't have no bootstraps to pull up.
I did not want to be on welfare.
I called the Welfare Department and asked them did they have a job that I could do?
[somber music] But they said they couldn't help me get a job.
And so I called the newspaper.
Mary Manning answered the phone.
- She told me what was happening to her, that she had been injured, she couldn't support her children, she needed work.
And I said, "Why don't you come in "and I'll talk to you and interview you.
We'll tell your story."
After the story appeared in the "Las Vegas Sun," of course, the state called Ruby up within a week, and they said, "Hey we'll put you in a sewing training program and you can learn how to make a living stitching."
[upbeat music] - I went every day.
A whole bunch of us got to know each other.
♪ ♪ - Ruby, she was loud.
[chuckles] Her voice would pierce your ears.
[chuckles] ♪ ♪ - When Ruby come in, I said, "That woman sure talk loud."
But she had a voice on her.
[laughs] - Alversa was the cook of the group.
She was always cookin'.
Mary was a cook too.
- You said, "Mary Wesley?
That the bad one.
She'll hurt you."
They used to talk about her.
But we had fun, though.
- We all here.
We all can talk now.
And I would ask questions.
I was a nosy person.
"What do you get?"
"How much you get?"
"How do you feel?"
[laughter] A pretty good girlfriend of mine called me and she said, "Ruby, "why don't you come and help us with the welfare mothers organization."
I said, "What do they do?"
♪ ♪ - ♪ Ladies, let's have a meeting ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ We ain't goin' out like that ♪ ♪ We ain't goin' out like that ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ We gotta fight ♪ ♪ ♪ - Every movement I can think of comes out of one person saying something they think only happened to them and 6 or 12 other people say, "Oh, that happened to me too."
And then you realize it's probably about power.
And if you come together, you can change it.
- ♪ We gotta fight ♪ ♪ ♪ - The Clark County Welfare Rights Organization agreed that this fiery-tongued younger woman, Ruby Duncan, should become the president.
♪ ♪ - We had organized before Ruby join us.
And then she join with us.
Then we started going places.
[chuckles] ♪ ♪ - I told them, "I don't know nothin' 'bout havin' no meetings.
I don't know how to do a meeting."
I knew nothin' about politics.
They said, "Oh, none of us know nothin'."
I says, "Okay.
I'll take it.
"But I will not do the work all by myself.
All of you are going to be part of this."
[applause] - ♪ Hey, hey ♪ ♪ ♪ - It was the best thing could've ever happened to me.
Up until 1968, I was just a regular, shy woman.
[soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ [mule snorts] I grew up back in the backwoods of Tallulah, Louisiana.
We were sharecroppers.
♪ ♪ I fell in love with the eighth grade, and... [bell ringing] I made it to the ninth.
I was a very good student with English and reading.
I never could catch on to math.
♪ ♪ Every year in April, I had to leave school to go back and help chop cotton.
I hated it very much.
I would always have these great dreams.
I could see myself somewhere way, way away.
[engine puttering] I'm going to be a speaker.
I'm going to stand before thousand of people and speak.
♪ ♪ But I didn't know if I would ever get to do anything.
I thought I was very shy.
♪ ♪ But it was my dream.
♪ ♪ [mule snorts] ♪ ♪ - Most of the other women also came from small communities in the South.
♪ ♪ - I was married.
My husband, he was so jealous.
He didn't like nobody to look at me.
He didn't want me to go nowhere.
♪ ♪ He would go out and come back home, and he drunk, he say he drunk.
And he would fight me.
And, uh, I had the young baby, but I would fight him back.
So I got tired of that.
♪ ♪ - I grew up in Quitman, Mississippi.
Well, I worked with the peoples.
They would tell me-- they had the wooden floors.
They wanted me to get down.
And so I told this lady, "I never got to get on my knees to scrub floors."
Not when they had mops.
♪ ♪ That's why my mother wanted me to go to Las Vegas.
She just would say I stand a little bit too tall.
[engine rumbling] ♪ ♪ [upbeat funky music] - My Uncle Top was always lookin' for better livin'.
And he would explain to us what a beautiful place it was in Las Vegas.
And I would start dreamin', "Wow.
That's really nice."
♪ ♪ - People would tell relatives, "You've got to come to Las Vegas.
Why are you still in the cotton fields?"
♪ ♪ - I left my husband, come out here.
I saw those mountains, and I said, "Oh, Lord, we at the end of the world."
And then they took me out on the Strip, and it was so beautiful.
It's the prettiest lights I ever seen.
♪ ♪ But we couldn't get out and go into the, uh, casinos and things.
♪ ♪ - The 1950s was the time in Las Vegas before integration.
African Americans were relegated to lives in the Westside community only a half mile from downtown.
- Las Vegas then was the Mississippi of the West.
West Las Vegas at the time had sort of a rural atmosphere.
- I asked my grandmother, I say, "They raise a lot of chickens here, huh?"
She says, "Where you see the chickens at?"
I said, "All those coops there.
It's just coops everywhere."
Those was the houses.
They was actually like a chicken coop.
And I could not believe peoples would actually live in them.
[somber music] [wind howling] ♪ ♪ - Yes, maybe life here isn't what I expected it to be, but I can get a decent job.
♪ ♪ Women came to work at casinos downtown where African American women worked in the back of the house doing the cleaning, in the linen rooms and places like that.
- In '56, I went to work at the, uh, Flamingo Hilton as a maid.
♪ ♪ In two weeks, I had a hundred and some dollars.
And I asked my sister-in-law was that right, and did I make that much money, and she said, "Yeah, you did."
And I was happy.
[chuckles] 'Cause I had never had made that much money in two weeks.
[upbeat jazz music] ♪ ♪ [person whistles] ♪ ♪ We'd dress up and go down Jackson Street.
We couldn't go out on the Strip, so that was our Strip.
- Jackson Street.
That was the Westside business corridor.
There was a bowling alley, all kinds of nightclubs, small casinos, restaurants.
♪ ♪ The Cove Hotel.
A lot of entertainers went over there.
People like Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Nat King Cole.
They would be here to entertain in the largest hotels on the Strip but could not enjoy any of the entertainment, any of that gaming.
- They would all come there, and they would have what's called a "jam session" from Sunday evening till Monday morning.
♪ ♪ [slot machine clacks, dings] [somber music] My husband was making by then, like, $500 or $600 a week.
But he would gamble so much.
He just couldn't stop that.
♪ ♪ After seven kids, we had separated.
And I had--I needed two jobs to make it for the kids, you know?
♪ ♪ One time my kids didn't have any food, so I went to the club called the Louisiana Club.
I would ask someone for a dime to make a phone call.
And I said, "'That's 'cause I don't have anyhing but a dollar bill."
Didn't have not one penny.
♪ ♪ It was, like, probably three or four hours before I got enough to buy a bag of beans.
♪ ♪ And then finally, I got sick.
And these peoples come to me at the hospital and they told me about welfare.
And I was so ashamed of that.
♪ ♪ I wanted to get off of welfare quick, but I was not gonna give my kids up for nothin'.
- About a quarter of Negro families are headed by women.
Uh, the divorce rate is 2 1/2 times what it is-- and all of the-the--these-- the number of fatherless children keeps growing.
Um, and all these things are getting worse, not better.
♪ ♪ - There came to be an idea that women were just staying at home and slacking off and, you know, that childcare wasn't hard work, that even they might be having children in order to get on welfare.
♪ ♪ - You don't want to be on welfare.
You don't get nothin' but that little crumbs of money, and they gonna talk to you and treat you so bad.
They made me feel real sorry that I had kids.
You know, "Why you had these kids?"
And I didn't know anything about birth control then.
♪ ♪ - It was a time when you couldn't send information about birth control through the mail, and many states totally criminalized birth control.
♪ ♪ - I went to a doctor and asked her would she help my period come back?
She says, "I don't believe in abortions, Ruby."
- I end up with 11 kids.
[chuckles] Another lady told me, she said, "I went to the doctor "and he stopped me from havin' babies.
He tied my tubes."
I said, "Well, give me his name."
So I went to him and I asked will he tie my tubes?
♪ ♪ They had to ask my husband, so they sent a letter down there and he signed it.
I was so happy.
[soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ [upbeat rhythmic music] - In Nevada, a welfare family of four receives an average of $1,700 a year.
By comparison, New York, New Jersey, and Alaska pay the same size family more than $4,000.
- The poverty program was supposed to make sure every welfare mother in this state and her family could have adequate income.
But the rich and the powerful who make the programs, they care nothing about our children.
- George Miller decided to survey Nevada's recipients of public assistance for cheaters.
He thought cheaters were people who worked off the books, who got a little extra income, or women who had men in their lives.
He wanted to turn men into responsible providers and heads of household.
It was a very gendered vision of the purpose of the welfare state.
[soft tense music] ♪ ♪ - They were comin' in women's homes at night, midnight, uh, knockin' on their doors.
They open the door, they just said, "We here to do a check.
We want to see if there's a man in the house."
♪ ♪ - Whether or not this man was the father of the children was irrelevant.
If there was a man around who could presumably support the children, then that would be grounds for cutting off a welfare recipient.
- Everything was no privacy.
They was pullin' you out of bed.
They would check your medicine cabinet or whatever.
- If they found whiskers in the sink, if they found men's clothing in a closet, then welfare mothers automatically lost their benefits.
- She asked me, "What these men's shoes doin' in your room?"
I said, "A lady give them to me for my son."
She said, "Well, I thought a man was here."
♪ ♪ - And if you were married and the husband couldn't find a job, he had to leave so the children could have food.
It was horrible.
They watches your home, they pays investigators, uh, from $10,000 to $12,000 a year to watch a woman and two children get $1,600 a year.
- Literally, the Constitution was left on the doorstep.
♪ ♪ - In the men-in-the-house raids in the middle of the night, George Miller had insisted that social workers were endangered, especially if they were white women going into these houses.
And he insisted that they carry loaded guns.
And the social workers really rebelled against this.
♪ ♪ They were worried that some kid might jump out and they would just shoot.
You would endanger the lives of their children, you would endanger their lives.
♪ ♪ - We didn't know when they would come a-knockin' on our door.
And so we sued them for it.
- ♪ Ooh ♪ - We say every day that in this country, the Welfare Department violates the United States Constitution... - ♪ Ooh ♪ - Which was set up to protect the people.
- If you want your life to get better, you got to fight for it.
- ♪ Oh, fighting for a change ♪ ♪ And we won't ever stop ♪ ♪ Fighting for a change ♪ ♪ Till we reach that mountain top, yeah ♪ - One day I seen this big paper laying there and sayin', +"National Welfare Rights."
And I said, "What in the world?"
And I began to read.
[soft dreamy music] - Before the Clark County Welfare Rights Organization began in Las Vegas, came the National Welfare Rights Organization when these three professors became interested in creating a national poor mothers movement.
- Our organized protest action using demonstrations, using legal channels, using negotiations, using the democratic processes, by people who are some of the most despised and outcast dwellers of the ghettos and barrios of our country.
This is one of the most hopeful movements that there is in the country.
- George Wiley.
He actually was a chemistry professor at Syracuse University.
He had been completely bitten by the movement bug.
- We don't get justice in the court, we gonna get it in the streets!
- He chose to leave his job and devote his life to civil rights and anti-poverty organizing.
- [indistinct] - When Richard and I ran into George Wiley, as social scientists, we had learned a lot about how the welfare system functioned.
Uh, we had learned it from the women who were turned away.
[soft tense music] I was so troubled 'cause I didn't understand why welfare policy was as harsh as it was.
These were mothers with six kids.
What was the point of degrading them?
Why refuse benefits for which they were eligible?
♪ ♪ And so we laid out this strategy.
[sparse jazz music] What if poor people all started making applications for welfare and then being a little truculent about it if they were turned away?
all: Poor people's power!
Poor people's power!
Poor people's power!
Poor people's power!
Poor people's power!
- With all of these constituents banging on the door of the federal programs and the federal budget, we thought the federal government would reform what was a pretty archaic and miserable welfare system.
♪ ♪ George Wiley wanted to try it out.
♪ ♪ We didn't know how many welfare rights groups there were in the country.
We didn't know how to find them.
And so we had this idea.
"Uh, let's send out the call "for all the welfare rights groups-- "we don't know if there are ten or 100-- to march on the same day to show solidarity."
- On June 30, 1966, they had the first nationwide welfare rights protest.
♪ ♪ - And then we hired a clipping service to collect clippings from all these hometown newspapers all over the country.
And that clipping file became our first registry of welfare rights groups.
- They decided to form the National Welfare Rights Organization.
George Wiley was the executive director.
There were also local organizers hired by the national office to help welfare recipients organize.
all: Feed our kids!
- I said, "My God, people doin' this all over the country."
all: Feed our kids!
- In LA, they would call themselves "welfare mamas."
Johnnie Tillmon... [chuckles] - We couldn't care less about makin' you mad because we have been mad over a period of years.
- In New York City was Beulah Sanders.
- Our people ain't gonna starve.
And we ain't about to see them starve.
We're gonna get food and clothing and shelter one way or the other.
- They were bad.
I wanted to be like them so bad.
- Welfare recipients across the country began to talk to each other.
- A woman in Nevada has no choices.
There are very few jobs except going to the club or going out to become a prostitute.
- The mothers met a northern Nevada white welfare mother with a blond beehive hairdo named Johanna "Cookie" Bustamonte.
[upbeat music] It was the first time they met poor white welfare families.
- I could not believe white womens didn't have enough to make ends meet.
That opened my eyes up so much.
- Poor whites, poor Latinas, just poor people in general started organizing together.
- You--you have to be in a mass for anybody to listen.
Um, you know, you can go down to the welfare and have a problem, and they'll just sit there and look at you and say, "I'm sorry."
And that's all.
It doesn't--it's not effective.
- Well, women band-- especially welfare women-- band together and clear this image up that they got so-- painted so dim of us.
- The only way to overcome oppression is through revolution, and so we revolted.
♪ ♪ - This was an era in which a lot of welfare regulations were overturned through litigation.
Nothing was celebrated more heartily than the King v. Smith decision, a Supreme Court decision ending the hated man-in-the-house rule.
[crowd cheering] - We had won that victory.
We see now the system do listen once you come out in numbers.
- We intend to develop the organization through the closer liaison with the women's rights movement, with the movement of Chicanos and Indians and Puerto Ricans and the Black Power movement.
- ♪ No more brothers in jail ♪ - In the mid-'60s, there was a lot of energy behind a broad vision of social justice in America.
all: ♪ No more... ♪ - People thought that almost anything was possible.
People thought we could actually abolish poverty in America for good.
- This administration-- - We get the war on poverty from Johnson who was pushed really hard by movement energy.
- Unconditional war on poverty in America.
- That created a range of low-income programs.
It's partly how we got food stamps so that people had some food security.
That's how we got Medicare and Medicaid.
♪ ♪ - But the states resisted it.
Now, Nevada, which was very libertarian, resisted it more than most.
- All of the people here could see the programs under Lyndon Johnson going into effect.
And nothing was happening here.
[somber music] - What make me angry is when a child is starvin', when they have no good housing.
Um, all the bad things that can happen to poor families is what make me angry.
♪ ♪ - In order to build a movement that could exert public pressure, the mothers wanted a connection to the civil rights movement, which was also a poor women's movement in terms of the number of people on the ground.
But the visible faces of it were these, you know, collared ministers.
[applause] - Dr. King, I-I read in "The New York Times" recently that you intend to organize one-- or to join some one million mothers.
You seem to be mobilizing everybody.
- [chuckles] Uh, these happen to be welfare mothers.
And many of them are members of an organization known as, uh, the National Welfare Rights Organization.
♪♪ - Wiley, Beulah Sanders, and Johnnie Tillmon had really tried to get the ministers of the civil rights movement involved.
These women actually said to King, "You know, if you're here to listen, listen.
"If you don't know what you're talking about, don't talk," and-and amazingly enough, he agreed with them and he said, "Okay.
I'm here to listen."
- This was really an educational process for us because we've met with mothers with eight and ten children.
And if they have to wash and iron and feed and take care of these children, if that's not work, then I don't know what work is.
♪ ♪ - We, I mean the women from about 31 states, we have not had the opportunity until recently to tell people our problems.
Always found some person who had expertise on being poor but had never been poor.
Of course, yeah.
- King's Poor People's movement came out of the National Welfare Rights Organization, and especially of poor and working-class Black mothers who were pushing the male movement leaders.
- They did a good job organizin'.
And they was very good.
We, as a group of women already here, we welcomed the help.
♪ ♪ - It didn't cost the nation one penny to guarantee the right to vote.
[crowd murmurs in agreement] But now we are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.
- Yes, yes.
[somber music] ♪ ♪ - When he was assassinated, a majority of white Americans disapproved of Dr. King.
He was trying to take up poverty and the Vietnam War.
And people were like, "Stay in your lane.
You only do the Black stuff."
- A man who fought against violence is by violence destroyed.
His successor, Dr. Ralph Abernathy.
- You may have killed the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream.
[cheers and applause] ♪ ♪ - By the end of 1968, the complexion of the nation had changed.
Richard Nixon was elected president.
And it was a big change in the environment for movement politics.
- All the movements began to lose momentum and members, and so did welfare rights.
[solemn music] ♪ ♪ - In Nevada, George Miller started to tighten the screws.
- The day-to-day of fixin' meals for your children at that time was pretty hard.
♪ ♪ - When you're poor, nothin' is easy.
I remember times when Mom be drivin' and a officer said, "Well, you came too close to the yellow line, you know.
"Yeah, you didn't cross it, but I'm gonna give you a ticket just in case."
They knew we were poor.
They--you know, $15, $10, $5 at that time was a difference in havin' Sunday dinner or payin' a light bill or somethin' like that.
It's a poor people tax.
- On the Westside, it was horrible with the police.
I mean, they was monsters.
You know, they was very unprofessional.
♪ ♪ [sirens wailing] [indistinct chatter] ♪ ♪ [crowd clamoring] - There was a man who was pulled over for a traffic violation and ended up getting beaten very badly.
[indistinct shouting] - The people were just pissed off, you know?
I mean, tempers had flared and... one thing led to another.
[tense music] - The Westside of Las Vegas erupted in frustrations.
- People throwing rocks through windows, overturning cars.
[glass shatters] It was an incident of police brutality, but it was also just everything.
- Majority of those young people were on welfare, and they couldn't get what they need.
♪ ♪ - Protesters went after the Welfare Department because the Welfare Department disrespected their mothers.
♪ ♪ [gunshots] [gas canisters hissing] [indistinct clamoring] [indistinct radio chatter] - We all have a right in this country to survive.
So in some way, you got to make the powers of understand it's a must.
♪ ♪ - It is quite clear that the struggle for adequate income, for shelter, for clothing, for the basic necessities of life will go on in the cities and will escalate.
And NWRO is dedicated to continuing and escalating that struggle for life around the basic necessities.
[upbeat music] - They picked a person from every state as the delegate.
♪ ♪ I was from Nevada.
We would meet every month.
- We come together at a time of unprecedented repression against poor people.
We come together at a time when we have opportunities for organizing and for building our strength as never before.
- George Wiley would be talkin' to us from 6:00 in the evening all the way to 3:00 in the morning.
He wouldn't let us go to sleep.
He say, "You got to know."
- Just know that Nixon doesn't care about poor children.
- Welfare is not geared to help you get on your feet at all.
They are there to keep you down.
- Beulah Sanders and Johnnie Tillmon, they were our greatest teachers.
- Uh, we all know what the poverty program is about.
We all know that it's one big lie.
- I enjoyed it so much.
I learned so much.
♪ ♪ Political education to teach community people who's holdin' the pocket book and power.
♪ ♪ - A 15-year-old young lady becomes pregnant.
She is automatically, by reason of her pregnancy, eligible for Aid to Dependent Children.
When the passing months reveal that her pregnancy, like the report of Mark Twain's death, was somewhat exaggerated, she was removed from welfare, but she took her case to court.
She is now enjoying welfare in her 15th month of pregnancy.
[laughter] - Rates of fraud are no higher in the welfare program than they are in the student loan program.
[tense music] But stereotypes about the lack of work ethic solidified in the 1950s.
- That then helps to lead into the trope that Ronald Reagan later ran on for president around the "welfare queen," and it was this mythology around this Black woman with her Cadillac, with her fur coat.
It was absolutely untrue.
He knew it was untrue.
But, of course, he was a showman.
[laughter] - George Miller, who came from California to Nevada, admired Governor Ronald Reagan at the time very much.
- He went to a conference where he began to hear Reagan articulate his philosophy.
You know, what we're going to do is cut the welfare rolls.
But it wasn't easy to cut the welfare rolls in a state the size of California or Massachusetts or New York or Illinois.
They needed a model program.
They needed a trial run.
♪ ♪ And Miller really became enamored of the idea that that would be him.
- George Miller sent a letter to every senator.
"This is how you stop welfare.
Cut 'em down or cut 'em off."
♪ ♪ - Before Christmas in 1970, women are cut off of the welfare rolls in great numbers.
- Nevada officials have cut out of welfare more than 1,100 families on grounds of fraud, welfare cheating.
♪ ♪ - When they sent you the letter telling you you'd been cut off, did they tell you you could appeal?
♪ ♪ My oldest child has broken her arm.
[clears throat] And, uh, I had appointment back to see the doctor, but I didn't have the money to take her.
And she was goin' around sayin' it was painin' her, so I took the cast off her arm myself.
And the doctor called and asked me why I had not brought her in.
And I told him I had been cut off ADC.
♪ ♪ - We need help.
♪ ♪ Mahlon Brown was the Director of Legal Services.
- You had a Welfare Department that's always trying to put the thumb on them under some guise of saving taxpayer money.
- So one day Mahlon come and he let me know he was gonna assign another attorney to us, and that attorney was Jack Anderson.
- I looked at it as the Wild West.
Um, that George Miller, he was sort of your epitome of backroom politics-- cigar smoking, dealmaking.
[soft music] Ruby Duncan and two other women came to the office.
They said they hadn't received their checks.
I said, "Well, did you get a notice?"
There wasn't any notice."
Well, I said, "That couldn't happen.
"That's not legal.
"I'll call the Welfare Department, get it straightened out."
Got ahold of the case worker.
She said, "Well, they've been terminated."
And I said, "There's a case just decided this year "by the Supreme Court, Goldberg vs. Kelly.
"You have to provide them advance notice of that.
"And if they want, they can request a fair hearing."
"No," she says, "that's not the way it works in Nevada."
Within a few more days, it became clear that thousands of terminations had occurred.
Moreover... they had all been terminated illegally.
This calls for a class action.
[energetic upbeat music] [indistinct angry chatter] ♪ ♪ - We're right here.
- We're right here.
- We're right here.
We're gonna talk to you.
- Where he at?
- What do he look like?
- Where he at?
And I got myself and two kids to support.
How can I pay rent when you-- - They want you to get out and prostitute and get put in jail!
- I don't want that!
I'm tired of this!
[overlapping shouting] - The people that was-- check was cut, we demand immediately a copy of the budget sent to every welfare recipient in Las Vegas.
We demand the right for them to have a fair hearing, Quit badgering and trying to tell the people they don't need a fair hearing.
- And the last demand... - Removed.
- George Miller removed, removed!
- Anybody who was terminated from welfare... - Give us some of that money you got in your back pocket.
- Hey, come on now.
- Be quiet.
- Was terminated within the existing rules.
Nobody has been cut off welfare illegally.
[all clamoring] ♪ ♪ - I called George Wiley from the Welfare Rights Organization.
- I'm here in Las Vegas today to meet with, uh, Ruby Duncan and other le-leaders of Clark County Welfare Rights Organization.
- They all came from everywhere, all over the United States.
- Yeah, I wake up and all these white people in-in-in-in sleepin' bags on the floor, you know?
I'm like, "Who these people?"
♪ ♪ - Why don't we start two lines here.
- We're gonna get you back on the rolls.
We're gonna try, anyway.
- This Nevada uprising looked like a good opportunity for NWRO.
"Let's make a stand in Nevada and, may send waves through the rest of the country."
- Today, the National Welfare Rights Organization launches the grassroots phase of Operation Nevada.
all: ♪ Our money now ♪ ♪ Want our money now ♪ ♪ On welfare we want our money now ♪ [all chuckling] - Shh.
- We do not intend to respond to threatening demands.
[all shouting] - You got one week!
♪ ♪ - That whole week, women were callin' me because they didn't have no food or anything for their children, so they wanted to know what were we gonna do.
- In the other movements, workers walk out or students walk out.
But welfare recipients?
What can they defy?
- So we was over at Ruby's house that Sunday.
And we was trying to find something to do.
- It was so many of them.
They cut off a lot of womens off.
- I said, "Something has got to happen.
"And the only way it's gonna happen is, we have to hit the Strip."
♪ ♪ They're the one that funnels money to every legislator.
Once you hit them, you got it made.
- This is Nevada.
It's one industry on a seven-mile long strip.
Close that down and you close down the state.
♪ ♪ - It was so outrageous, you know, marching outside the organized crime-owned places on the Strip that you realize they don't take opposition lightly.
[tense music] ♪ ♪ - I was going down Fremont to go home and two big limousines pulled up, one on this side of me and one on that side.
I said, "Oh, God, there's the Mob."
♪ ♪ - You had these guys, used to call the house, 3:30, 4:00 a.m., and threaten to blow the house up or set it on a fire.
I can hear the stress and the panic in her voice when she slammed the phone down.
♪ ♪ - When you're a little kid, you're afraid one day your mama's not comin' home again.
- I prayed for her because she was really puttin' her life on the line.
And you're talkin' about closin' and shuttin' down the Strip, you impacting a lot of money.
Things coulda happened.
I coulda lost my mother.
♪ ♪ - I wasn't afraid of nothin'.
I had seven children and they got to be fed.
[soft dramatic music] - It occurred to them that what they needed were some famous people who would march with them so that they would be less likely to be shot, beaten, whatever.
♪ ♪ - They were able to get Sammy Davis Jr. and Donald Sutherland, Ralph Abernathy.
- We may have to seize the dice away from the crap tables.
We may have to dismantle the slot machines on the Strip.
But be assured, we ready for business.
[applause] - A lot of peoples afraid to march, but I think when they found out it was other peoples behind them and really wanted to help them, they got like they didn't care.
They wasn't afraid anymore.
- I want to see every lady here who's worked in her life hold up your hands.
You know what they took out of your check?
You hear me?
- They took tax money!
[applause] - I was like a officer.
I was outside the group, made sure that nobody come in or go out our group to fight or do anything.
So if you do, I had learned signs where to call others to help.
And they'll come runnin' to help us, you know?
[applause] - We had been meeting all week long.
Everybody was ready.
[energetic suspenseful music] ♪ ♪ We had the universities.
We had all the welfare mamas.
- Cookie Bustamonte came down to be one of the leaders in the march.
- Jane Fonda was right in the middle of it.
[camera shutter snaps] Yes, she was.
♪ ♪ [all singing] And we began to go on the Strip.
all: ♪ Na, na, na, na ♪ ♪ Na, na, na, na ♪ - This country needs jobs!
all: Oh, yeah.
- And this country needs an income.
all: Oh, yeah.
♪ ♪ - We had people on the streets yelling at the protesters as the march is taking place.
- This gentleman, he was walkin' right in front of me.
"Go to work.
Go to work.
Go to work."
And I wanted to push him so bad.
- They had folks on one side chantin' at you, "Welfare mothers go home," it's like that.
♪ ♪ [engine rumbling] [people chanting] - The police was over here.
Just rows of them driving.
When we turned off into Caesars Palace, the police said, "Where are they goin' now?"
[laughs] - To the right.
♪ ♪ - We was marchin' and we just turnt and went up in Caesars palace.
- Perhaps a thousand marchers flooded into Caesars Palace, one of the most luxurious resort hotels.
- They said we stormed Caesars Palace, closed them tables down.
- Chips, money, dice, and cards disappeared.
All gambling stopped.
all: We want Miller out!
We want Miller out!
- It frightened someone like them when they find out that poor people like us that are waking up to their crooked rules that they had been had for years.
- [speaking indistinctly] - The economic impact was huge.
They literally shut down gambling for a certain length of time.
all: ♪ Amen ♪ ♪ Amen, amen, amen ♪ ♪ ♪ - A week later, they went to the Sands Hotel.
- And then the next march they were waitin' on us.
We headed towards, uh, the Sand Hotel, they locked the doors and had the guards and everything there.
- This time, the protest was stopped at the door.
All other entrances had been locked, and the main entry was barred by security officers.
- Let us in!
- Let us in!
[overlapping shouting] - Wait a minute!
Go around, go around!
- After they locked the doors, we knew we had them on the run.
They were frightened.
[overlapping shouting] [dramatic music] We had an idea.
[chanting and clapping] ♪ ♪ - We just turn around and sit in the middle of the streets.
- They sat down in the road and actually blocked traffic to Las Vegas clear to the Nevada/California line.
♪ ♪ all: Arrest George Miller!
[indistinct chatter] - I declare this assembly in violation of Nevada Revised Statute number 203.020.
- Arrest George Miller!
He's acting illegally!
all: Arrest George Miller!
- You have five minutes in which to leave this area.
Any persons who have not dispersed at the end of that time period are subject to arrest.
- I went to jail that night.
all: Arrest George Miller!
Arrest George Miller!
- Mary Wesley and my mother got arrested that day.
There were a lotta people arrested.
- Oh, yeah!
- All of this turmoil, all of these marches, all of this strategizing leads to... [upbeat music] Rights being reinstated.
- The federal court ruled the terminations illegal and ordered payments made retroactive.
The court held that the state Welfare Department ran roughshod over the constitutional rights of the eligible and ineligible alike.
[all cheering] - Right on!
♪ ♪ - We were attacked by a strange coalition-- the Welfare Rights Organization, the Welfare Workers Union, the Peace Coalition, and all the busy little cells of the New Left.
- The National Welfare Rights Organization claims a major victory in Nevada.
Do you agree with that?
- No, I do not.
I don't think there was any victory at all.
- Well, how-- I can't see any victory because the court made a decision that would have been made regardless of the Welfare Rights Organization.
♪ ♪ - If the women and the families had not been on the Strip, had not stopped business as usual, there well could have been a different outcome.
The federal judge realized a cavalier decision would not have stood.
Or the building in which it was made would not have stood.
♪ ♪ - Uh, Nevada, for us, was the proving grounds, uh, where we showed that we have strong allies in, uh, SCLC and the women's movement that we could mount demonstrations to disrupt a whole industry.
The economic pressure that was put on those hotels and gambling casinos, uh, by our demonstrations, uh, were really too much for the state of Nevada.
♪ ♪ - We showed Las Vegas there was a need for a change in the Nevada state welfare.
- ♪ Yeah, hey ♪ ♪ Yeah ♪ ♪ Yeah, now ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Now ♪ - The Strip marches were successful, but Nevada still had the second lowest benefits in the country.
[somber music] ♪ ♪ - The case is about food-- or about the lack of it.
- You know, the only ones that are suffering are the children.
They have to go through this without food.
- This is a disgrace.
These people are hungry.
- We wanted food stamps.
♪ ♪ Nevada still did not want to bring food stamps in.
- The hunger that was rampant in poor communities in Nevada at that time was severe enough that nurses who would visit people who had been cut off welfare would find kids with rickets-- literally with bleeding, open sores and legs that didn't quite hold them up.
I mean, this was severe and pervasive and long-standing malnutrition.
- The governor said there were no hungry people in Clark County, there were no hungry people in Nevada.
- Governor Mike O'Callaghan was in office.
- He saw the backlash from poor people as a direct threat to him.
- The demonstrations in the streets merely stiffen the backs of the people in the state of Nevada.
You don't threaten Nevadans.
And you don't threaten this governor.
- They said that it would be easier to have a elephant birth a pink elephant before we would get food stamps.
And I told him-- I said, "I bet we get 'em."
[upbeat funky music] - We were gonna use more creative means.
- Just follow me.
[indistinct chatter] ♪ ♪ We had two busload of kids anywhere from the age of 12 down march straight into the Palms restaurant and the Stardust.
- Yeah, come on.
- "Okay, anywhere y'all want to sit.
Sit wherever you want to sit."
So we sat down.
We just sat at the table.
And then we all got a menu.
And I said to my mother-- I said, "Ma, what can-- what can we order?"
She said, "Anything you want."
♪ ♪ - And they said, "I want a hamburger and a Coke."
I said, "No, he don't.
He want a steak and lobster.
Serve him that."
- Show him just a smile.
- They was bringin' everyone just piles of food.
♪ ♪ When these kids got these steaks and these salads, the kids would start cryin'.
They said the meat was bleedin'.
I knew they was havin' rough times, a lot of them, but I didn't know it was that bad.
- I had never had a steak before.
I enjoyed every bit of it.
♪ ♪ - Children love good food.
And that was some delicious food.
[chuckles] - The manager of the restaurant came up to my mother and he said, "You gonna have to pay this bill."
And she said, "I'm not payin' nothin'."
- "But who gonna pay for this?"
And I say, "Charge it to the governor."
♪ ♪ - They ordered, they ate, but they didn't pay.
And they said they'd do it again.
[sirens wailing] ♪ ♪ - It's kind of scary seein' the police handcuffing your mother, but I got used to it.
♪ ♪ - The eat-in was an opportunity to demonstrate that a state in which so much food was literally given away to people to encourage them to gamble would not feed hungry children.
- We decided that we would go up to the legislature in Carson City.
[soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ The legislators would meet 6:30 in the morning.
I would meet with them.
- You know how that makes old white legislators nervous when you've got a crowd out there of Black ladies lookin' at them.
Drives them nuts.
- They were apprehensive.
Well, then I begin to tell 'em how much food stamps would help the grocery stores make as much money as they could sell food.
More money coming into Nevada.
And money excited 'em.
- In a really brilliant move, Ruby and the women decided to play supermarkets against the conservative legislature and say, "Look, sorry if you-- you know, you feel "some qualms about putting another spoonful of oatmeal "in a poor, hungry child's mouth, "but you could be putting millions a year into grocery stores."
And it worked.
♪ ♪ - Nevada was the last state in the whole United States to get food stamps.
That don't make no sense.
It didn't make any sense.
I thought... there's too much money flowing throughout this country, and it doesn't flow to the little bitty people.
[somber music] ♪ ♪ Our politicians, whomever they may be... ♪ ♪ Must understand there is a group of human beings throughout America that is in poverty.
And we that are strong enough to get the message over, must let them know it's a need.
- The biggest protest rallies of all during the Democratic Convention are being organized by the National Welfare Rights Organization.
- Your whole life is in the hands of politicians that is takin' money from poor, low-income people.
♪ ♪ - You see before you a coalition of women, of Black people, of Spanish-speaking people, and of young people who tell the country what is different about the 1972 Convention.
In that era, the party convention was not just a public event.
It actually had a role in forming policy.
[soft dramatic music] They were discussing welfare.
And they were not hearing from women who were on welfare.
[chuckles lightly] [all chanting] - In Miami, we were fighting for adequate income, jobs, housing.
We were fighting for everything.
- More jobs!
[all chanting] - The welfare rights movement made a demand for a guaranteed annual income.
- We want $6,500 and adequate income and all of the other planks of the Poor People's Platform.
[cheers and applause] - The Democratic Party, one would have hoped, would have been supportive of a guaranteed income floor.
But this was the first massive test of it in the national spotlight.
[protestors shouting] - And so the National Welfare Rights Organization decided to carry its fight for representation and a $6,500 guaranteed income to the convention hall in Miami Beach.
all: Let the people in!
Let the people in!
[tense music] - We made more noise in them stands that day, oh, heaven, to make sure that the political power people know we wasn't jivin', we was for real.
all: ♪ We are welfare fighters ♪ ♪ We shall not be moved ♪ ♪ We are welfare fighters ♪ ♪ We shall not be moved ♪ ♪ Just like a tree that's planted by the water ♪ - The American people are anxious for economic justice for the people of this country.
[applause] - They are able to push through a $1,000 benefit.
But when McGovern is crushed in that election, that's a nail in the coffin of that idea for decades.
[suspenseful funky music] - We'd'a had a working nation.
With that guaranteed income, everybody would've been on a level and they don't have to be in poverty.
♪ ♪ I was on a plane comin' back from the Democratic Convention.
I just got to thinkin' we could do something for ourselves in West Las Vegas.
[rhythmic drumming] ♪ ♪ The Welfare Department was really runnin' an ill-administrated program.
And I began to ask some of the women, "Aren't you guys kinda tired of that?"
Why not become administrators ourselves?
We know we can do it, and we can do it better.
- One-stop shopping for social services so that people don't have to take three bus fares to get to a hospital and then go to another part of the city to get food stamps.
They really wanted to create a central hub run by poor women for poor women and kids, getting federal money to actually deliver community services.
- Then the Cove Hotel sittin' there with nothing but an empty building.
And we moved in.
[soft hopeful music] - They rehabbed this hotel with little bits of grant money here and there.
- And that's how Operation Life come into being.
♪ ♪ Welfare mothers become administration.
And it worked.
It was a beautiful program.
- The politicians in Washington and the politicians in Carson City, for that matter, didn't know what the mothers needed.
Mothers in a sewing circle, mothers going door-to-door knew what each other needed.
- Las Vegas' Ruby Duncan is a busy lady.
Duncan now serves as executive director of Operation Life Incorporated, a self-help, community-based organization.
- People like, uh, myself and others in the community that are quite interested in uplifting and upgrading and makin' people, uh, more economically independent have to do that along with the people in the community.
- Through Operation Life, she brought into her community a lunch program, a library, a childcare center, and a clinic.
- [indistinct] [baby coos] - One of the programs that Ruby found out about was early periodic screening and diagnostic testing.
They got a local doctor, Garnett Ice, a Black doctor, who became their official physician.
This was revolutionary.
- We'd go out and get the kids 'cause they had never had examinations.
Most of the parents couldn't afford it.
And they didn't take them to the doctor unless there was emergency or somethin', they had to go to the hospital.
- 50% of the kids had never seen a dentist.
Some staggering percentage had traits for sickle cell anemia.
They were able to treat these kids.
They're alive today because of what they were able to do.
♪ ♪ - We had bought a van for Operation Life.
One lady had five girls and she say, "I can't comb their hair and get 'em dressed to get 'em down there."
So I said, "Well, lady, I got nine kids, girls.
I'll comb their hair."
♪ ♪ We would go to the house, and I be combin' their hair and then take 'em to the clinic.
♪ ♪ - The clinic was such a success.
It was the most successful clinic in the country because we were seeing, like, 2,000 children per month.
♪ ♪ - I worked every day down at Operation Life.
We did a lotta good things, and I felt good about that.
♪ ♪ - George Miller padlocked Operation Life on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1976 and charged Ruby and others with welfare fraud.
- Is there a criminal investigation of any of the Operation Life people at this time?
- Yes, there are.
- Do you have proof of any of this?
- Well, uh, yes, we do.
- Can you say whether Ruby Duncan is being investigated?
- I would say that all of the defendants are being investigated and some of the board members.
[tense music] - First they audited the Women and Infant Children Nutrition Program books.
Then they said that Ruby was misusing funds.
- There has been a sabotage by the Welfare Department and the higher administra-- political administrators in this state who sent me word that I better not never challenge what they are doing.
- Are you saying if you weren't involved with Operation Life, that the state might never have withdrawn their money?
- I would say just that.
♪ ♪ I think they felt like us being welfare moms, and the majority of us didn't have an education, "How the hell did you know how to keep up paperwork, manage the money?"
♪ ♪ - At the time, I was in California and came back to litigate the matter.
Told Judge Babcock--I said, "You know, I've been sitting here "listening to the state.
"They're just completely misleading the court.
"And my suggestion "is that we take a recess "and we go over to the clinic so that you can see what they're describing."
- This was a rare occasion for a district court judge to conduct a personal observation of evidence pertaining to a case.
Judge Babcock was given a first-hand tour of the center and its facilities.
Senator Joe Neal and other Operation Life personnel assisted the judge on the tour.
The hearing resumes tomorrow morning at 9:45.
♪ ♪ - They audit Operation Life's WIC program, which is being administrated by Alversa Beals, who has only an elementary school education.
And she had designed this bookkeeping technique that enabled her to keep the books accurate within pennies.
- I was glad that I did a good deed and come through for us.
- The city came in and audit four books for six weeks and found 4¢ missing.
They tried to find 5¢ and couldn't.
- The welfare fraud charges were never proved.
- We got out.
We went home.
It was funny.
So we was havin' a good time then, from then on, organizin'.
[soft hopeful music] - Operation Life proved what they argued-- that poverty can be best fought by the poor, that budgets in poverty programs can best be balanced by poor mothers who have learned how to stretch budgets farther than they could go.
- Right now, Duncan's days are a little more hectic than usual.
President Carter named the North Las Vegan to the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity.
She is one of five individuals from across the country who will represent the poor of America.
♪ ♪ - My mom was on various commissions.
I remember going back to Washington, D.C. with her.
I was just mesmerized.
It was like, "Gosh, is this really happening?
This is my mom," you know.
♪ ♪ - [sniffles] Mama, you know, she's my hero.
She had a lotta influence on a lotta things.
♪ ♪ [dog barks] - Hey, Gloria.
How you doin'?
You wanna go over to the urban farm?
- Oh, yeah.
- Okay, I'ma show you.
The greenhouse is gonna be from here, where the tree is, all the way down.
I saw his proposal and it was, like, carrots, uh, squash.
I am Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, an elected representative for my community.
Are you looking for employment?
That's my home number, okay?
- And I'm Ms. Gilbert.
- Okay, Ms. Gilbert.
- Mark, he lives there.
- Everything I do, I learned from my mother and Mary Wesley and all the other women.
So we need to utilize, um, our buildings.
First, find out what the community needs before they give it away.
- Yeah, of course.
- And I'll tell you--okay.
- Take care.
- All right.
- Okay, bye-bye.
- See you soon, Sondra.
- You too.
- Have a good one.
- You too.
- ♪ I heard that if I call you... ♪ all: Yes.
- ♪ You can trust He'll answer ♪ all: Yes.
- ♪ Well, all I need... ♪ - They used to say, "Them old welfare rights womens, they bad."
I would tell the kids, "I'll get my group together on y'all..." [chuckling] "We-we ain't scared of nobody.
We'll get y'all."
They'd just laugh.
- You having too much sweets?
You need some water?
And get some milk.
Please drink some milk with the baby.
Think I was a little crazy.
I didn't think.
I would just do.
If it involved a kid or something you had to do, I would do it.
♪ ♪ - All of this, workin' with all these women, has been one of the greatest thing of my life.
♪ ♪ all: ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ ♪ Happy birthday, dear Mama ♪ ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ [cheers and applause] - That was good!
♪ ♪ - Yay!
- Happy birthday, Grandma!
- Happy birthday, Grandma!
- Happy birthday, Mama.
[laughter] - I came from no place, just slidin' in from outta nowhere.
But when I come in, I came in pushy.
And I've been pushy ever since.
You wanna laugh but you don't know.
No, you don't know this lady.
I am that woman started all of y'all.
"Who is all of y'all?
Where y'all come from?"
- Look at her.
She gonna smile in a second.
- Ain't she sweet?
- She--see, she's- she's a old soul.
She like, "I can see everything."
- She's-- - In a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live.
[all singing] - Every generation has its moment to fight for what's right.
We are traveling across the country on the Poor People's Campaign.
I hope all of you will join us.
♪ Every day!
♪ When will the day come ♪ that we can live life ♪ without the stress and the racism strife♪ - When do we want it?
♪♪ [soft music] ♪ ♪ - ♪ Oh, oh, whoa ♪ - ♪ Oh, oh ♪ - ♪ Oh, oh, whoa ♪ - ♪ Oh, oh ♪ ♪♪