October 31, 2011
|Occupy Wall Street volunteers man a communication station |
in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in New York.
The Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t set up to become a big fund-raising operation, but it has already spontaneously attracted $454,000 in cash from some 8,000 online donors and other supporters to finance the protest here in Zuccotti Park.
Many other contributors are providing food, clothes, blankets, and other items. So much has been flowing in that organizers have started to send money, goods, and financial advice to “Occupy” protesters in other cities.
On Friday night, as the temperatures dropped just ahead of a big snowstorm, members of Occupy Wall Street’s finance committee announced to hundreds of people the total donated in the first month of the protest, which started in mid-September.
Robert Christ, an information-technology developer who helps manage Occupy Wall Street’s finances, announced the financial tally and the plans for handling the money. He said the group was releasing its financial details as “part of our hope that we can be transparent and accessible.” He pledged that “our statements will be released regularly, and we want to hold open meetings.”
Informal Fund Raising
Nearly three-quarters of the donations to Occupy Wall Street have been sent via checks and online through Web sites that outline the protesters’ concerns, including the disparity in wealth in the United States and corporate greed. Most of the donations average about $50, Mr. Christ said. Protest organizers have made no formal appeals for money.
Occupy Wall Street is too young and informal to have received nonprofit status, so some of its donations are collected by the Alliance for Global Justice, a charity that has a long history of serving as a fiscal sponsor of progressive grass-roots groups. Fiscal sponsors provide oversight and accountability, and donations to them are tax deductible.
Donors don’t just give online; many people have also provided cash or checks at the park, accounting for more than $120,000 in gifts.
So far, the New York City protest has spent $55,132, or about 12 percent of the money collected in the first month. The largest expenses include:
$20,408 for communications, such as computers, Wi-Fi hot spots, and live-streaming cameras.
$18,986 for food.
$7,127 for generators, tarps, furniture, hardware, tools, and other items needed to keep the protest running.
$3,505 for office supplies.
$2,322 for bedding and laundry costs.
Help for Other Cities
Nobody knows yet the total value of noncash goods contributed so far, but a committee of volunteers is figuring that out. The surplus goes to the protesters in other cities.
“We have an entire shipping service that just goes and brings what we have too much of to other places that need it,” says Mr. Christ.
Last week, the New York City protesters voted to allocate $20,000 and 100 tents to help a similar protest in Oakland after Scott Olsen, who served in the military in Iraq, was hit in the head with a tear-gas canister fired by police in the Oakland protest.
Jo Robin, a jazz singer who arrived in New York City four days ago from a protest in New Orleans, says she hopes more of the money raised in New York City will go toward lower-profile protests.
“I’d like to see that money filtered out to other occupations in other areas, because in comparison to how much money the other groups have raised, New York is unbelievably high,” said Ms. Robin, who estimated that just $2,000 had been raised in New Orleans.
Help With Finances
Mr. Christ said the New York protesters are also working to help demonstrators in other cities handle their finances and recruit accountants who can help them track donations and make their distributions transparent to all protesters.
Karim Walker, who is unemployed and has been camped at Wall Street for a week, said on Saturday that the group should probably spend more money on food, shelter, and clothing given that the weather will only get worse.
Speaking under a hail of sleet and snow, Mr. Walker said he was satisfied with the process for allocating donations that Occupy Wall Street has established.
“I’d rather trust these people here than the people on Wall Street to handle the money,” Mr. Walker says.