There are a number of ways to view the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators whose protests have multiplied in many places across the country and around the world.

As an expression of discontent, even anger, with the current economic doldrums that exist across borders and continents, the demonstrators have seized on something real to spur their zeal. But because the nature of their complaints is so broad, encompassing all parts of the world economy and many levels of governmental influence on it, their rage has appeared to diffuse itself by being aimed at so many targets.

Thus, they are criticized for having no set goals beyond “change,” and no organization or effective leadership to implement it in ways that are politically and socially realizable — not to mention gaining broad popular support.

So, their protests have been upheld and undergirded by better-organized groups, including public workers’ unions here and abroad. And the influence of truly radical groups has been growing as well.

Which presents a danger, both to the protesters and their cause, and to wider society as well. When people gather in the streets with little or no agreement among themselves about their ultimate goals, the opportunity for the protests to be hijacked by smaller, organized interests bent on violence is always present.

We have already seen that happen abroad, where Occupy Rome demonstrations turned violent almost as soon as they began. Cobblestones were tossed through shop windows, cars were set afire with gasoline bombs, ATM machines were vandalized and robbed, and stores were looted.

News reports said that most of the protesters remained peaceful, and some even cheered the police, but in the end what was described as a “full-scale battle” brought the day to a close without the planned march ever reaching its destination.

Peaceful protest is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, but in order to accomplish something meaningful, its practitioners have to have something more to express than unfocused anger and better reforms to support than violence can bring into being.

There are plenty of reasons not to be happy with current economic conditions and trends. But letting that feeling be used by people with hostile intent for counterproductive purposes is foolish — and futile.