The nasty side of protests

Protests are par for the course in the politics of democratic societies, but all too often they take an ugly turn. And when they do, any message, purpose or intention is lost to violence and chaos.

In the U.S., protests are seen as part of a tradition of activism, a history of free speech and victory through activism. As a result, seeing people protest in Pittsburgh in response to the G-20 Summit is not surprising.  The violence is, unfortunately, also not surprising.

The conflicted nature of these protests mirrors the complexity of the issue at hand. Free trade is no small issue. It has pervaded global discussion for years and is clearly not easily solved given the stagnant state of the global trade debates. There is no clear solution in sight.

Positive proof can be found in the new trade wars with China. Protectionism versus globalism prevents any kind of consensus. Countries want to protect themselves and continue to benefit. Similarly, the protesters benefit from capitalism but also feel betrayed by its advances. They want freedom, but they use violence and scare tactics to promote it. That seems to be a sure sign of a conflicted group. They are torn just like nations torn between protectionism and globalism. The nations face a similar problem, they know they stand to gain from globalism, but still feel the pang of self-interest.

The point is that frustration shouldn’t always lead immediately to anger and violence. We should make efforts to remain within the realm of peaceful solutions to what we know all too well are realistic, dramatic and complex problems.

The elimination of capitalism as a system, for instance, would be a radical idea with which most people would disagree. Capitalism developed over many years. It may not always be fair, but I think that we can all agree looking at the economies of truly communist countries that it certainly beats that. Even communist countries, like China, that believe in political restrictions have succumbed to capitalism despite the inherent contradictions in that practice. It is ironic that people who have never lived in a society with an alternative economic system and who probably have jobs, food, and opportunities because of capitalism feel so adamantly that it should not exist.

These problems won’t be solved in a day, a year, or maybe even a decade. However, the answer isn’t destroying a working system but perhaps finding a way to live with, improve and build upon what we already have.

Claire Arritola is a junior majoring in accounting. She may be contacted at