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Donations could help protesters endure

By Karen Matthews and Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 18 2011 10:15 p.m. MDT

An Occupy Wall Street volunteer works in the medical tent in Zuccotti Park in New York on Tuesday.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — After a month of bashing banks and other corporations, the Occupy Wall Street movement has had to become a money manager itself.

It has $435,000 — most of it from online credit-card donations, but $85,000 of it has been donated in person at the Manhattan park that's become the epicenter of the global "anti-greed" protests, said Darrell Prince, an activist using his business background to keep track of the daily donations.

Handling the money, and figuring out what to do with it, could prove to be one of the biggest challenges for a movement united by anger more than by strategy, and devoted to building consensus among activists with wide-ranging goals.

The protesters have been spending about $1,500 a day on food, and also just covered a $2,000 laundry bill for sleeping bags and jackets and sweaters. They've spent about $20,000 on equipment such as laptops and cameras, and costs associated with streaming video of the protest on the Internet.

And they don't just have money donations. They have a mountain of donated goods, from blankets to cans of food to swim goggles to protect them from pepper spray — some stored in a cavernous space on Broadway a block from Wall Street.

Though the money is a pittance compared to the profits of many corporations that the activists blame for the nation's financial woes, it's growing. Roughly $8,000 is now coming in every day just from the lock boxes set up to take donations at Zuccotti Park, Prince said. More is coming through the mail and online.

"It's way more support than we ever thought would come in," Prince said.

The cash flow has forced changes in the "finance working group" that arose spontaneously among the self-governed protesters to handle the movement's money. Buckets were once used to collect park donations, and until recently, a 21-year-old art student played a key role in the working group.

Prince, who has worked in sales, said the group is gaining financial expertise. He said the volunteers they recruit for the work generally "have experience running their own businesses or have worked in the industry."

They've also been getting help from a nonprofit group. Occupy Wall Street officially became a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Global Justice on Sept. 28, 11 days after protesters began camping out at the park. The status allows the alliance to process donations on the movement's behalf, and makes it responsible for tax reporting.

"They approached us after people started wanting to give them money," said Chuck Kaufman, a coordinator for the alliance. "We agreed, not realizing the volume that it was going to turn out to be. It's been a learning experience for both of us."

The alliance advertises itself as "a little bit of people's think tank, a whole lot of organizing."

The Manhattan activists have been sticking to a simple, organized routine that works in the ragtag protest community.

In the park, passers-by drop bills or coins into monitored lock boxes. Several times a day, volunteers collect the boxes and bring them to a central point. The boxes are then taken to a nearby office space that is itself a gift from a New York union.

Mail containing checks — made out to the alliance or Occupy Wall Street — arrives at a UPS branch in the financial district where hundreds of cardboard boxes of contributed supplies also have been shipped.

In the office space, volunteers tally the donations and register them on a computer spreadsheet that's internally accessible to those tracking the finances. Each day's total is deposited at the Broadway branch of the Amalgamated Bank. Amalgamated bills itself as the only American bank that is 100 percent union-owned.

Prince said about $350,000 has been donated by credit card through the movement's website, while the rest was given by mail or in person.

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