Wall Street protesters turn to experienced groups for support

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 Oakland, unions representing teachers and government workers are encouraging members to take a day off from work to march with protesters today., a group that has given millions to liberal Democrats, has promoted the demonstrations relentlessly on its Web site and in blast e-mails.

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.

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.