Connolly jpg


The portrait of James Connolly in the California State Capitol
By Larry Levin
You won’t find a portrait of James Connolly on the walls of Leinster House, the home of the Irish Dáil.
And you won’t read his words in pretty much any other government building in the Irish capital.

In fact, even in the year of the one hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising, “official Dublin” doesn’t seem to have much use for James Connolly.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

But this week, Connolly’s picture and words have a place of honor more than 5,000 miles away from Ireland’s east coast – and in a most unlikely place: America’s west coast.

Connolly is taking center stage in the seat of government of the world’s eighth largest economy, the historic California State Capitol building in Sacramento.

Thousands of Californians will learn about Connolly as they pass through their Capitol this week for the celebration and swearing-in ceremonies of Anthony Rendon, the new Speaker of the California Assembly, the state’s second most powerful political office.

Rendon decided to adorn the walls of the Capitol’s majestic Rotunda with the portraits and words of four public and historic figures that have influenced him, Connolly being one of them.

Here are the words of Connolly that Californians will see: “Don’t be ‘practical’ in politics. To be practical, in that sense, means that you have schooled yourself to think along the lines and in the grooves which those who rob you would desire you to think.”

Connolly wrote those words in 1909 in his book, “Socialism Made Easy.”

He went on to become Ireland’s foremost labor leader and Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising.

Wounded in the defense of the General Post Office and weakened by loss of blood, he was sentenced to death by British authorities as he lay in bed. He was then strapped in a chair and executed.

Connolly traveled extensively in the U.S. between 1903 and 1910 and lived in Troy, NY, Newark, NJ and elsewhere as he sought to organize workers and “ease the prejudices against socialism among Irish Americans,” this according to the Irish Times.

Speaker Rendon is a Latino American who represents one of the most destitute, deprived, and polluted districts in the state, near Los Angeles.

He was a community organizer and activist until his election to the California Legislature in 2012.
Both he and wife grew up poor and he spoke about that during his swearing-in ceremony in the ornate legislative chamber.

“Neither of us was really supposed to be here,” but “we benefited from (California’s) public housing projects and its low-income home-loan programs.

“We benefited from its food stamps and free meal programs. We benefited from this state’s English-as-a-second-language and its diversity programs. We benefited from its unemployment assistance programs and, yes, we benefited from this state’s commitment to affirmative action programs.”

The new speaker says he intends to use his power to try to eliminate poverty in California.

He reads widely and is a bit of a “philosopher-politician.”

He says he often thinks about Plato’s fundamental question of what is justice.

"If you're not asking that question on a daily basis," he said, "you're not doing your job."