Ukraine should inspire American revolt against inequality

When I hear cynicism about the Occupy Movement and its failure, it contradicts what has been reported in mainstream media and culture. On a global scale, protests work and are an important part of a democracy, and, more broadly, the quest for governments by the people.

The Occupy Movement was a failure in many instances because of a lack of leadership and agreed-upon agenda. Terms such as “the 99 percent” shifted the political consciousness of people who were not previously aware of the gross wealth inequality in this nation. In Ukraine, there is a different rift between the elite and the people. The people of Ukraine abide by American ideals more than we do.

Movements and revolutions take time. Despite the wealth inequality in this country, I would be remiss not to acknowledge my own privileges by being an American. I cannot in good conscience compare my struggles to other people in different nations.

However, this does not mean Americans should not look toward other countries as inspiration to improve our own living conditions, however privileged they may be.

The people of Ukraine took to the streets and demanded that their government should give in to the wishes of the people. Obviously, I am extremely biased because I am not affected by Ukrainian politics. The idea of physically protesting and demanding change when a supposedly democratically elected government acted against the will of the people is something everyone can get behind.

The reason the people of Ukraine is in uproar against their government is due to the geographical and cultural divide of East and West. The government refused to sign a treaty that would bring Ukraine closer to European Union membership. Current President Viktor Yanukovych upset protesters for strengthening ties with neighboring Russia on the east.

The general consensus of the protesters is that they fear Russian influence over the Ukrainian culture and ideals. The fact that Russia is under harsh criticism from the global community over gay rights probably does not appeal to Ukrainians, who want to become more westernized.

The protesters’ fear is not without reason. During post-Cold War Ukraine, the country had an identity crisis: Should it be Russian or Western? Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were banned, murdered or defamed under a Soviet Union communist government. Also, Ukrainian farmers’ lands were collectivized under the Soviets, which many saw as an aggressive act of communism.

Yanukovych’s refusal to align with the European Union stems from his claim that the country’s economy is better off by supplying Russia with Ukraine’s abundant resources such as natural gas and access to the Black Sea. There is no right or wrong answer to this situation, and both the Ukrainian government and the people have valid concerns.

However, at what point does the will of the people become subordinate to the government’s wishes? The fact that four people have died and hundreds injured shows the aggressiveness by the state and police.

Whether or not the people of Ukraine will be successful will be revealed soon enough. But one thing is for certain; the people are unafraid. The people are united and the people have organized. This is what America needs.

Our country needs to stop dividing over Republican verses Democrat, white vs. minority, or believer vs. non-believer. We need to realize the powers that be are spying on citizens without a warrant, the top 1 percent owns most of the wealth and the millennial generation has culminated ridiculous amounts of student loan debt.

Other nations are more successful because their sense of urgency and community is far greater than their political or religious affiliation. Americans lack a sense of community and rely too heavily on individualism and self-interest. It’s time for this country to once again lead the world in democratic values and human rights.

Reach the columnist at gromero7@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @gilromeo92