One America Voices: Scott Cooper

Scott Cooper

Washington, D.C.

Director of National Security Outreach at Human Rights First, and Founder of Veterans for American Ideals

In addition to his work on national security and refugee issues, Scott is the board chair of the One America Movement. We are grateful for his leadership. 

1. You are the Director of National Security Outreach and the Founder of Veterans for American Ideals. Tell us about your work. 

A: I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, retiring in 2013. When I retired  I made my way to Human Rights First, where I get to work at the intersection of national security and human rights. It’s an interesting place – and I describe my own role as being a bit of “connective tissue” between two communities who share many of the same values, but who rarely interact. Much of the work of Human Rights First is in the area of refugees. There’s a large cohort of lawyers with whom I work (we have offices in DC, NY, Houston, and Los Angeles), who provide pro bono representation to refugees and asylum seekers. And from this work, we started Veterans for American Ideals (www.vfai.org, and also see our #WhatIFoughtFor campaign, www.whatifoughtfor.vfai.org).

We’re a movement that is grass-roots, community based group of veterans aiming to leverage military veteran voices to bridge divides and regain that shared sense of national community. We’ve grown to nearly 4,000 military veterans around the country. I’m convinced that within this increasingly divisive political climate, veterans can be an important civilizing, unifying force. Our work is to amplify veterans’ experiences, leadership abilities, and credibility to combat the erosion of our democratic norms and to challenge the rise of xenophobic, fear-based rhetoric and policies that run counter to our ideals. We do this through nonpartisan advocacy, sharing our stories, engaging in community service and demonstrating the meaning and importance of active citizenship.

2. How do you connect your former career in the Marine Corps to your current efforts to humanize refugees with Veterans for American Ideals?  

A: Veterans today hold a special place in our society – we are, deservedly or not – given an inordinate amount of respect, because we chose to wear the cloth of our nation. And today, I see a nation more divided than I can ever remember. I wonder how we can find a consensus about what we want our country to stand for, and how we can remain a custodian of those ideals at home and their champions abroad. In a sense, we’re asking ourselves if there is room enough. Is there room enough for people of a different ethnic or religious background to receive opportunities in our country? Is there room enough for a refugee to find safety and a new start? Is there room enough for a person who worships a different God to be part of this great nation? I believe that there is, and that such an idea is at the center of this experiment of American democracy. George W. Bush agreed in his second inaugural address when he declared, “From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this Earth has rights and dignity and matchless value…. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers.” This is the work of Veterans for American Ideals.

3. We’ve heard that in addition to being a die-hard Nationals fan, you recently met Nationals closer Sean Doolittle! Tell us about that.

A: And as for the Nats, I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a young boy growing up in Wyoming. Cal Ripken was my hero, but it wasn’t until I settled in DC that I had a home team I could root for, and the Nats have stolen (and these past few years, broken) my heart. Sean Doolittle is top among Nationals players, not just because of his play, but because of his wonderful advocacy, especially for refugees and for veterans. Getting the opportunity to meet him on World Refugee Day a few weeks ago was one of the highlights of my career as a Nats fan. Let’s hope they can step it up after the All Star break and bring a championship here!

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