Occupy Wall St. Faces Its Own Economic Realities

With donations to Occupy Wall Street falling significantly and money starting to run low, the movement imposed a partial spending freeze  on Saturday to make sure enough money is available for crucial functions like bailing protesters out of jail.

“We need to stop all new nonessential spending until we get our budgetary committee together,” Haywood Carey of Occupy Wall Street’s accounting working group said on Tuesday.

With the encampment’s eviction from Zuccotti Park in November and the consequent decline in activity and visibility, Occupy Wall Street’s fund-raising has hit a dry patch. Donors to the general fund have given only about $28,000 so far this month, down from about $330,000 during the first 17 days of October, according to the movement’s accounting site.

On the expense side, the movement has spent more than half of the $700,000 in donations it has received since October and now has a balance of about $300,000, Mr. Carey said. Much of the money has gone to Occupy efforts in other parts of the country, which sprouted after the movement’s first act: the occupation of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street on Sept. 17.

To make sure that money remains in the bail kitty, Occupy Wall Street recently created a $100,000 bail fund — the group’s biggest single budget item to date. Other items not covered by the spending freeze include food, housing and medical services.

“We’re definitely concerned about the downward trend in donations,” Mr. Carey said last week. “But we’re an incredibly savvy movement that has done a lot with a lot and a lot with a little.”

The movement’s youth and ever-changing terrain have made financial planning difficult, members say.

“With something like Occupy that just sprang up, there’s no way to put it on a spreadsheet and say, ‘Three weeks out we’re going to do X, Y and Z,’” said Bill Dobbs, a member of Occupy’s media team.

Occupy Wall Street’s spending has fluctuated considerably. In October, as protesters were still establishing a foothold in Zuccotti Park, they spent roughly $37,000 mostly on basic necessities like tools and cleaning supplies.

Spending jumped to $121,000 in November, in part to accommodate the influx of people who joined the Zuccotti Park encampment. It dropped to $82,000 in December, with the city’s ban on sleeping bags and lying down in the park, the advent of cold weather and the departure of many protesters for the holidays.

But leaders are expecting increased activity when the weather warms up, and are hoping that an increase in donations will accompany it.

“I anticipate a spike in everything come spring,” Mr. Carey said.

The decision to curb spending has been a contentious one, he said, because many movement members feel that Occupy Wall Street should give what it can to protest efforts elsewhere and that rules on spending could make the movement less responsive.

“Circumstances change rapidly at Occupy Wall Street,” Mr. Carey said. “While we are planning for the future, we want to remain flexible and effective.”

A significant portion of the funds are used to further the Occupy movement in the city and around the country. The second largest expenditure so far was some $20,000 to supply Occupy Oakland protesters. It also spent $3,000 to fund Occupy Farms, an encampment on a 56-acre plot in upstate New York.

“We try to be generous,” Mr. Carey said. “We know that New York City isn’t the entire Occupy movement and we know some of the greatest stuff is happening outside of the city.”

But with the spending freeze, no money will be laid out for these out-of-town projects, Mr. Carey said.

Money is a controversial issue among protesters, as some see it as necessary for the movement to thrive and others want to reject it entirely. Recently, Occupy Wall Street’s accounting working group began interviewing candidates for an accountant.

Mr. Dobbs, of the media team, said that even without money, the movement will most likely continue.

“The real core and lifeblood of Occupy is people who are driven to stop Wall Street greed and get economic justice,” Mr. Dobbs said. “Money certainly helps, but it’s no substitute for people.”

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