By Keith Johnson –
In their latest attempt to smear the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post and other pseudo-conservative news outlets have exploited a minor dispute between the group’s finance committee and a few disgruntled protesters. AFP recently discussed the matter with one of the key spokesmen for OWS, who said Wall Street and Big Business are trying to undermine them by exaggerating what most activists consider to be a minor issue.
Some representatives of OWS’s 30 working groups have complained they have not yet received their share of the nearly $500,000 in donations that have been collected since the occupation began in September. Although this hardly qualifies as a major scandal, some OWS critics are portraying it as such, even going so far as to suggest that protesters in New York were becoming as greedy and power hungry as the Wall Street fat cats they claim to be fighting.
The overblown controversy relies almost exclusively on two complaints. One is by OWS volunteer Brian Smith, who is quoted in an Oct. 23 New York Post article as saying: “The other day, I took in $2,000 [in donations]. I kept $650 for my group, and gave the rest to [the] finance [committee]. Then I went to them with a request—so many people need things, and they should not be going without basic comfort items—and I was told to fill out paperwork. Paperwork! Are they the government now?”
This AFP writer spoke with Justin Lecea, an OWS information liaison in New York City, who was asked if there was any substance to the mainstream media hype.
“Some of these groups are annoyed that they now have to go through a procedure to obtain money,” said Lecea. “It used to be a lot less formal, but now that we’ve got a fiscal sponsor who has lent us their tax-exempt status, we have to have some basic accountability.”
Lecea said those complaining are among a small minority of the protesters, and are in no way representative of the more than 40,000 activists who’ve made their presence known in lower Manhattan. While there are some disagreements as to how money is distributed, those matters are ultimately resolved during meetings of the group’s general assembly (GA).
Lecea says the GA is an open forum anyone can attend. There is no central leadership, and all are permitted to submit requests for reimbursements or payouts, as well as vote on approval of those requests. “It’s democratic and transparent,” added Lecea.
When asked if the well-publicized disputes had been resolved, Lecea replied: “The only big issue has been the drummers wanting their equipment replaced. They wanted $8,000, but their proposal failed in the GA by a democratic vote. Apparently, voters felt it wasn’t the GA’s responsibility to compensate [them].”
According to Pete Dutro of the OWS finance committee, $66,000 of the approximately $480,000 they have on account has been spent on computers, credit card processing fees, food and medical supplies. Most of that money has come from donors who contribute an average of $50 paid directly to volunteers at Zuccotti Park—ground zero of the OWS protests—or through online payments.
The online donations are managed through the group’s fiscal sponsor, Alliance for Global Justice (AGJ) — a non-profit organization whose mission statement is: “To explore and implement alternatives to the unjust domination of governments, global financial institutions and multinational corporations.”
Founded in 1989, AGJ has been largely concerned with countering U.S. interventionist policies in Central and South America. In 2004, the organization absorbed a $60,000 donation from the George Soros-linked Tides Foundation. Because of that, their relationship with OWS has become another element of controversy. In an Oct. 23 article from Wall Street-friendly Human Events, columnist Matthew Vadum concluded that the movement has been hijacked by Soros. He wrote, “The nonprofit organization at the receiving end of Soros’s largesse, Alliance for Global Justice, is managing donations benefiting the communists, socialists, anarchists and hippies now occupying Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.”
On Oct. 27, this AFP writer spoke with Chuck Kaufman, national coordinator for AGJ. Though he did not deny the Tides Foundation’s donation, he was adamant that billionaire speculator Soros had no influence on the group’s affairs. “As far as our work is concerned, Soros is one of the problems—not the solution,” says Kaufman. “He made his money through currency speculation, which messed up the economies of many Asian nations. . . . [H]e’s certainly no ally of ours.”
Kaufman’s disdain for Soros is corroborated on AGJ’s website, which slams the Soros-created National Endowment for Democracy (NED). It reads: “The best known agency of ‘democracy building’ is the National Endowment for Democracy, a supposedly private organization that operates almost 100 percent with our tax money.”
The post went on to say: “Neo-conservatives are obsessed with maintaining and expanding U.S. power. It is about realizing their vision of a ‘New American Century.’ This is incompatible with real democracy, in which the people of the world’s sovereign nations exercise their self-determination.”
So far as his relationship with OWS, Kaufman stated, “No money has come from Soros for [the] OWS [movement] through our funding mechanism.”
Keith Johnson is an independent journalist and the editor of “Revolt of the Plebs,” an alternative news website that can be found at www.revoltoftheplebs.com.