Protest interrupts Citizen of Year breakfast

 

Greenfield Recorder 12/20/2014, Page A01

By RICHIE DAVIS Recorder Staff

DEERFIELD — Friday’s Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast was Marie Putala’s moment, receiving her Recorder Citizen of the Year award for her decades of reaching out to a diverse community of people with an array of needs.

The breakfast at Deerfield Academy was interrupted, though, by half a dozen protesters who quietly entered the packed dining commons, with one woman making a speech about racist police practices, as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The six young people, representing a mix of races, filed into the room in front of the dais as Elizabeth Cordoza of the governor’s western Massachusetts office was called to present a citation from Gov. Deval Patrick and then fanned out and distributed copies of an op-ed column from The Daily Hampshire Gazette: “Why my fellow white Americans don’t understand Ferguson.”

“This is not the place!” called out many of the 320 people as a woman began reading a speech from her cell phone.

“This is a global civil rights movement and your silence makes you complicit,” she read.

At that point, Putala’s sonin- law, Montague Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge — who was seated in the front row at a table of the honoree’s family members — escorted the protesters out, as some in the audience applauded and the protesters sang, “Calling out the Violence of the Racist Police.”

The entire incident, lasting less than two minutes and ending quietly without further incident, was recorded by one man in the group, standing near the entryway. Yet it was an echo of protests that have been occurring around the country in recent months over the deaths of blacks by police in Missouri and New York City.

Although members of Putala’s family were reportedly upset over the timing of the interruption as disrespectful to the Citizen of the Year, Putala herself later posted on Facebook, “I wish I had known they were coming; then they could have had breakfast with us and then could have introduced themselves and spoke their words. … Everyone has a right to speak and share their beliefs ….. It was a wonderful morning for me and their interruption did not put a damper on the event.”

In addition to the governor’s citation, the Turners Falls woman also was honored with proclamations from Congress, the state House and Senate, as well as the mayor of Greenfield for her years of helping neighbors, children, seniors, immigrant families and others through programs of Our Lady of Peace Church, Montague Catholic Social Ministries, New England Learning Center for Women in Transition … as well as her own spontaneous volunteer efforts.

In her brief comments to the gathering, after the protesters had been escorted from the dining hall, Putala said she wished that the generosity and good will she sees displayed around Thanksgiving and Christmas could flow as well during the other 10 months of the year.

“It’s what we share with others that can make a difference,” said Putala, shunning the limelight by keeping her comments brief and repeatedly gesturing for the standing, applauding audience, to be seated.

Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, who attended the event along with Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and Paul Mark, D-Greenfield, said after the event, “It was a spontaneous moment where some things came together to honor a woman for how she has compassion for coexistence, and tolerance and love, with some young people who said we need to do more in the world and there’s a very important issue facing our country right now, and that’s an opportunity, if we so choose, to evolve.”

Andrews, who has worked as a diversity training consultant, added, “To me, it was very poignant. I think we have a lot of work to do to live what Marie was honored for, and the race relationship in the country, and our tolerance for differences of opinion. There’s too many people who stand across imaginary lines on an important issue versus saying what’s the reality … and what am I doing to either keep the current condition or to evolve our humanity?”

On the Web: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij5Dho3edrU