CASSt Your Vote!
Cass Elliot & Politics

With John Denver on Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special, 1972"I don't think it's so important who you vote for-you vote for who you believe in.  The important thing is to vote, because it's our way and it's the best way." ~ Cass Elliot, appearing on The Midnight Special in August 1972 in a Get Out The Vote drive. 

The political process was another area in which Cass Elliot set the pace for many of her peers.  While actors and actresses were heavily involved in politics in the 1950's and 1960's, popular musicians, and particularly, Cass' contemporaries in the sixties rock scene were not generally political activists. This is one of the reasons that during her remarks, as she accepted her mother's Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cass' daughter Owen made mention of her mother's passion for young people to be politically involved.   

Having grown up in the nation's capital and cut her teeth in the politically vibrant early sixties folk hotbed of Greenwich Village, Cass was sensitive to and interested in the political process.  "I remember when I was ten years old, in Washington, D.C.," she once recalled,  "and I lived with fear of the atom bomb that would keep me awake nights and make me wake up screaming.  I used to baby sit for my younger brother and sister and Id be terrified if I heard a siren, a police car, or an ambulance.  Id say, My God, what if this is it!  How do I protect them?  We used to have duck-and-cover exercises in school, where theyd ring a bell at any time of the day, sometimes five or six times a day, and wed crawl under our desks and put our hands like this to protect the back of our necks from the bomb.  We all carried that with us."   

Cass also claimed to have been "a radical at American University" in 1962.  When President Kennedy was shot in November 1963, Denny Doherty recalls that she "cried all the way home" from the Midwest where she was playing with The Big 3. 

While with The Mamas and The Papas, Cass' political vocals lost precedence to those she her musical ones. While she was with them, she once declared, "We don't sing protest songs."  And once, when dodging the subject of Vietnam in 1966, she said,  At a McGovern fundraising event, 1972If we expressed ourselves on Vietnam, it wouldnt be what the elders wanted us to say.    Those were years she did criticize her state government, nonetheless!  She once claimed to want to leave  California because, its a police state.  I know, because I bought an Aston-Martin and I put a Reagan sticker on it, only because I know if Im speeding through Orange County late at night with a Reagan sticker on that kind of expensive car, Ill never be stopped.  If I were in a Renault, I might go to jail. 

After The Mamas and The Papas went their separate ways and Cass had become a mother, she turned her own attention to politics.  In the Rolling Stone Interview with her in October 1968 she offered:  "I think everybody who has a brain should get involved in politics.  Working within. Not criticizing it from the outside.  Become an active participant, no matter how feeble you think the effort is.  I saw in the Democratic Convention in Chicago that there were more people interested in what I was interested in than I believed possible.  It made me want to work.  It made me feel my opinion and ideas were not futile, that there would be room in an organized movement of politics for me to voice myself. 

She went on to explain more about how the 1968 Democratic Convention kindled her political passions:  "It made me want to work, made me feel my opinions and ideas were not futile, that there would be room in an organized movement of politics for me to voice myself and change things.  I was asked to participate in Bobby Kennedys campaign.  I thought about McCarthy and I realized I thought McCarthy was a little too lyrical, but I agreed with his ideas.  I felt much stronger about McGovern; I dont know why.  But I didnt participate in any way, for anyone.  I was just a voyeur and watched it--- to see tragedy heaped upon tragedy.    

She went on, "Id say Im gonna be active.  Im gonna do everything I can.  Whatever it is, and Im sure there are people who know what it is, and theyll tell me.  Im guilty of the sin of omission as much as anybody else.  I never spoke up." 

A year later she succinctly said, "I feel strongly about the war in Vietnam, about  Biafra , about poverty, about ignorance, but these are things which come from love for fellow men, not from words.   

Chatting up George & Eleanor McGovern, 1972Three years later, in the Spring of 1972, as a supporter of George McGovern's campaign she made good on her earlier commitment, "Our job as entertainers is to ease some pain.  So to begin with, you have to know what and where the pain is.  I've never campaigned before and I wanted to be damn sure before putting my name behind anyone.  I wrote to all the campaign officers to find out what they were.  My issue is that it's all very well to sit back and complain but when it's your country you have a responsibility." 

Hers was a platform, financial and name recognition strategy, for she once acknowledged:  "I wouldnt be hit on the head with a billy club or have mace squirted in my face.  When I was younger...maybe I dont want to do that again.  It didnt accomplish anything." 

But as a part of the McGovern campaign she tried to accomplish.  She ushered at the "Four For McGovern" evening at the LA Forum on April 15th of 1972 and she was a part of the infamous Jane Fonda Anti-War coalition, Cass & Michelle Phillips at a McGovern fundraiser, 1972Entertainment Industry For Peace and Justice (EIPJ),--along with Dick Gregory, Michelle Phillips, Tommy Smothers, Donald Sutherland and Ryan O'Neal about the same time.  In June, before heading to London to work on an album, she attended  a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden for Presidential candidate McGovern with the likes of Warren Beatty, Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul and Mary.  That summer she appeared in London with Americans Abroad for McGovern.

That Cass was interested in the world around her and events which shaped it, is clear.  And Ronald Reagan nor Arnold Schwarzenegger had anything on her-- in terms of why those in the entertainment industry might be interested in politics.   

Perhaps her remarks to Mike Douglas, over thirty years ago, while she appeared on his show, best capture her particular interest in politics:  "I think I would like to be a Senator or something in twenty years.  I don't think I really know enough yet. I'm just 30 now and I wouldn't even be eligible to run for office for another five years.  But I have a lot of feelings about things.  I know the way I would like to see things for this country and in my travels, when I talk to people, everybody wants pretty much the same thing:  peace, enough jobs, no poverty and good education.  And I've learned a lot.  It's funny.  So many people in show business go into politics, and I used to say 'What the heck do they know about it?'  But when you travel around, you really do get to feel--not to be cliche--the pulse of the country and what people want.  I'm concerned and it's not good to be unconcerned and just sit there."

McGovern campaign pin

Copyright 2004 - Richard Barton Campbell.  All Rights Reserved.