By Barb Arland-Fye
Msgr. Marvin Mottet of Davenport describes himself as a registered Independent, but when it comes to job creation for the unemployed, he’ll talk to whoever occupies the White House. “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does that all the time, works both sides of the aisle for the cause of social justice,” he said.
Through a White House connection, the longtime social justice activist, 82, was the first person among greeters at Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids when President Barack Obama stepped off the plane July 10.
The president, visiting Cedar Rapids on a campaign stop, was on a tight schedule. The priest wanted to make a plug for two job-creation projects that a former student, Jim Orr of Davenport, has had patented. Orr was waiting nearby with another promoter of the jobs effort, Kathy Weiss of Coralville.
“I had to choose my words carefully to get the president’s attention, so I mentioned the Campaign for Human Development,” Msgr. Mottet said. That organization (now called the Catholic Campaign for Human Development) had funded six parishes that Obama, then a community organizer, worked for in south Chicago. Obama created the Developing Communities Project, which had connections with the Gamaliel Foundation, a network of organizations working together to create a more just and more democratic society. Msgr. Mottet served for a time as president of the Gamaliel Foundation board.
When the priest mentioned Gamaliel Foundation and Campaign for Human Development, Obama said to him, “Oh, it’s good to see you again.”
The priest asked, “Can we speak to someone on your staff about our jobs program that can create thousands of jobs?” He said the president responded, “Yes, of course!” Then, as he walked away, the president said to Msgr. Mottet, “I see you’ve been organizing, haven’t you?”
The president continued down the line of greeters before leaving the airport for stops at a Cedar Rapids family’s home and Kirkwood Community College.
When the priest returned to the airport terminal, a woman from the advance committee for the president’s visit told Msgr. Mottet she had been instructed via phone call to take down his name, phone number and the information he wanted to share. She said to expect a reply from a White House representative.
Msgr. Mottet received an email from a man named Joe Paulsen asking the priest to follow up via email or phone call. Msgr. Mottet, whose response was delayed by an unexpected two-day stay in the hospital, said he emailed a description of the two job-creation projects and their potential. “Each project would not only create jobs, but would help people who are in difficulty, whether it’s by natural or man-made disasters” he said.
Orr, an inventor, took to heart the social justice lessons learned in Msgr. Mottet’s religion class at Assumption High School in Davenport in the 1960s. Through the job-creations projects (whose details will be shared as the effort progresses), “We want to provide for all the people who are unemployed and who are finding it very difficult to live from day to day. We want to present them a better tomorrow,” Orr said.
“We’re hopeful the White House will give us focus and direction so we can acquire the necessary resources to move the projects forward,” Orr continued. “Prayers are welcome.”