Last week, billionaire financier George Soros announced that he would donate up to $5 million to the progressive grassroots organization,

Soros called the presidential elections in 2004 “a matter of life and death,” and said that defeating George W. Bush “is the central focus of my life.”

News of the donation wasn’t all that surprising, considering the $5 billion that Soros has already spent promoting democratic reforms in Africa, Asia and the former Soviet bloc. The important question was, why had Soros decided to focus his attention here at home?

A Washington Post report provided the alarming answer: “Soros believes that a ‘supremacist ideology’ guides this White House. He hears echoes in its rhetoric of his childhood in occupied Hungary.

“It conjures up memories, he said, of Nazi slogans on the walls, Der Feind Hort mit (‘The enemy is listening’). ‘My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitized me,’ he said in a soft Hungarian accent.”

The story about Soros underscores two points – the importance of defeating the Bush administration in 2004 and the grim reality that faces us if we fail at this task.

Consider, for instance, that more people die of AIDS every two years than the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. Meanwhile, our government, the richest in human history, spends less battling the AIDS epidemic yearly than its citizens spend on shoes.

A U.N. committee announced in September that one of every six people reside in urban slums, “squalid, unhealthy areas, mostly without water, sanitation, public services or legal security.” The committee predicted the ratio would be one in three within 30 years.

The current, unprecedented levels of global ecological disruption and devastation are only worsening conditions.

Global warming, the World Bank reports, is “already affecting millions of people living in developing countries and threatening their potential of moving out of poverty. Droughts, floods and storms are now a recurrent phenomena throughout the world.”

In the process, some of the world’s richest bio-diversity is being destroyed, as large multinationals race to extract natural resources and the poor spread out in search for arable farming land. In Brazil, for example, just 1.7 percent of the Amazon rainforest remains.

As these facts make clear, the fate of our species is decidedly uncertain.

Given current trends, one can easily imagine a world plagued by large swaths of poverty and violence and dominated by a few remaining pockets of concentrated wealth and power. Of course, the few would guard their precarious positions over the many through the undemocratic control of technology, information and weaponry.

Thankfully, there is much we can do to resist such a future.

The most important action, in my view, is for us to stay as informed as possible. I would suggest visiting – the site is unaffiliated with the Democratic Party – and signing up for their free daily e-mail newsletter. It is insightful, funny, provocative and covers an extremely wide range of topics.

Secondly, I urge everyone to get involved in the 2004 presidential election. I believe that Howard Dean is the best candidate that has a chance at unseating Bush. I highly recommend signing up for his e-mail alerts at

My final suggestion is more general. Individuals who wish to create social change make no more important decision than their choice of careers. Whatever your area of study at UCSB, there are career paths you can take that will allow you to alleviate conditions of human suffering, and we should all be seeking those paths out.

Will our actions make a difference? Too much remains up for grabs for us to justify either optimism or pessimism.

Instead, to paraphrase Richard Falk, we ought to let struggle take the place of optimism and passivity stand in for pessimism.

For, as usual, our one last reliable hope is ourselves.