David Karp, File, Associated Press
NEW YORK — With its noisy drum circle, meandering parades of bandanna-clad youth and disdain for centralized leadership, the Occupy Wall Street encampment sometimes has the ragtag look of a group that is making things up as it goes along and discovering its own purpose along the way.
But from the start, the movement has also gotten support from a long list of experienced, well-funded organizations, unions and political committees — sometimes to the discomfort of more radical protesters who worry about their message being co-opted or watered down.
After an initial hesitation to get involved, unions from Boston to Los Angeles have sent members to march in the demonstrations and donate air mattresses, food and other supplies. In San Francisco and San Diego, members of the California Nurses Association have staffed first aid stations at Occupy events.
MoveOn.org, a group that has given millions to liberal Democrats, has promoted the demonstrations relentlessly on its Web site and in blast emails.
To most of the youthful radicals at the movement's heart, all this help is welcome, but with a caveat.
"This is a movement of individuals, not managed political coalitions," said Alexa O'Brien, one of the many early organizers who helped get the New York occupation started on Sept. 17.
Unions can be great, and their support is "critical," but they can be corrupt, too, she said. And the Democratic Party, she added, is part of the problem.
"If you are going to ask corporations to get out of elections, you have to ask all special interests to get out of elections," she said. "This movement is about building civic infrastructure for regular citizens."
Today, the group that has now occupied a city park for six weeks shows few signs that it is allowing outside organizations a substantial role in planning its marches, making decisions, or deciding what issues to embrace. But it has also turned to a network of left-leaning organizations for help, some of which have been around since before most of the protesters were born.
The group of activists who began meeting to plan the demonstrations in mid-summer included several people who had been involved in an organization called US Uncut, which is affiliated with the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank that cut its teeth opposing the Vietnam War.
When Occupy Wall Street needed an established nonprofit group to help handle incoming donations, which have now topped $500,000, they turned to the Alliance for Global Justice, an entity originally founded in 1979 to build support for the communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
The National Lawyers Guild, whose members have been representing dissenters, peaceniks, and civil-rights activists since1937, has set up Occupy legal hotlines in 19 cities and been representing protesters arrested across the country.
Even the unofficial newspaper of the New York encampment, The Occupy Wall Street Journal, didn't simply spring organically from the protesters' base in Zuccotti Park; it is a special edition of the Indypendent, an alternative newspaper that has been publishing for 11 years.
All of this support by outside groups has become a rallying point by the movement's critics, who have accused it being manipulated behind the scenes by government worker unions trying to keep taxes high, or by Democrats trying to use the "class warfare" card in upcoming elections, or by community organizing groups trying to drum up support for government entitlement programs.
If that's happening, there is scant evidence in Occupy Wall Street's daily organizational meetings, where the demonstrators seem to focus a substantial amount of time and energy on the logistics of keeping the camp running and building an organization. Much of the assistance provided has been more inspirational than operational.
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