What is the word for someone who wants to fight against corruption in politics, but he knows he's too small to really change anything?

For example many artists are like this:

What do you call an artist who does his best to fight against politics even though knows everything is ruined beyond repair?

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    "Fighting against politics" sounds a little like taking up arms against war. – Brian Donovan Jul 5 '15 at 11:43
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    I'm reminded of the Mother Teresa quote: "If you can't feed a hundred people, feed just one." (Even if you know your change won't amount to much, keep doing what you can.) – Tushar Raj Jul 5 '15 at 11:46
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    @TusharRaj: Agreed. Sure, it will be only 1 person, but that's still 1 person who will be infinitely greatful they can eat for today. That's a beautiful thing in itself. – SarahofGaia Jul 5 '15 at 13:25
  • Should the "but" in the title really be "even though" - your question text suggests you want a word for someone who knows they are destined for failure, but tries anyway; the title sounds like someone who is giving up. – Silverfish Jul 5 '15 at 14:46
  • Should be called a futilist. – CodeAngry Jul 5 '15 at 18:29

I think the artist you are referring to can be described as a Don Quixote:

  • An impractical idealist bent on righting incorrigible wrongs. (After Don Quixote, hero of a satirical chivalric romance by Miguel de Cervantes.)


  • Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.


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    Nice answer. Should maybe add the word 'quixotic', though? – Charon Jul 5 '15 at 11:25
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    Does quixotic imply that they know they're too small to change anything? – Tushar Raj Jul 5 '15 at 11:44
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    @Josh61: They wouldn't be stopped, but that's not the point. IMO, quixotic implies think they can, as opposed to know they can't. See the Mother Teresa quote in my comment above. I wouldn't call that kind of thinking quixotic. – Tushar Raj Jul 5 '15 at 12:06
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    @TusharRaj - the difference would be that Mother Teresa wasn't waging war on the Machines. Maybe the Don's agenda wasn't so impractical, misguided, or deluded, after all. Have you watched Mr. Robot? It's an uninterrupted progression from them damned windmills to the rise of the Machines! ;-) – user98990 Jul 5 '15 at 12:16
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    This doesn't describe someone who 'knows he's too small for that and he can't change anything'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 5 '15 at 22:15

Pragmatic describes the willingness to do something in spite of the disappointing expectations:


1 Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations:
a pragmatic approach to politics

Cynic describes that sense of hopelessness:

1.1 A person who questions whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile:
the cynics were silenced when the factory opened

Should this person be called a cynic or a pragmatist? It is hard to choose between the two, but since this is a single word request, pragmatic seems to embrace the notion of cynicism sufficiently. Pragmatists understand the limits of a situation and simply do what they can to make the most of it.

Together, the two words make a great team. For his noble efforts to keep the ethnic tinderbox of Europe at peace in the early 20th century, the statesman Klemens von Metternich was honored by Arnold Blumberg with the label of pragmatic cynic:

The splintering of Central Europe, and the creation of so many nonviable states since the war, may give us renewed respect for the pragmatic cynic whose name is forever associated with the years 1815-1848.
Great Leaders, Great Tyrants?: Contemporary Views of World Rulers who Made History

As Plato is said to have said:

The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. Congressional Record, Volume 98, Part 6, Page 7944

John Stuart Mill concurred:

Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
Rectorial Address Delivered at the University of St. Andrews

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  • I would say someone willing to spearhead a campaign that has little hope of success (disappointing expectations) is an idealist, not a pragmatist. A pragmatist and a cynic would know fighting against the big guns is a waste of time, effort and money. And I have never heard of a cynic being described as a person who experiences "hopelessness". The dictionary definitions do not match your unique take on their meanings. – Mari-Lou A Jul 7 '15 at 3:37
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    Interesting dichotomy, @Mari-LouA. Would you say you're more an idealist or a pragmatist? I myself am a pragmatic idealist--the synthesis of a pragmatist and an idealist. We know how things ought to be, and we are willing to make strategic sacrifices to move in that direction even if we cannot effect perfection. May I suggest that the sense of hopelessness I noticed in the OP is modulated from despair to cynicism by the intense desire to do something? Human emotions are often the composite of polar opposites battling internally, but our actions define us. – ScotM Jul 7 '15 at 4:07
  • A cynic is but another word for a pessimist, and in my experience, neither are rarely self-starters, or self-motivated to initiate a battle knowing they will lose: but he knows he's too small to really change anything. Unless you have faith, and a conviction you are right, regardless of the opposition; you will never fight. – Mari-Lou A Jul 7 '15 at 4:16
  • Is the answer now "good man"? Some pragmatists are very self-serving, and I'm not sure I would call a cynic a "good" person. – Mari-Lou A Jul 7 '15 at 5:05
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    Tasty metaphor, @ShinyPenny! – ScotM Jul 7 '15 at 5:39

Political Underdog may best represent someone who knows they have little chance of winning yet takes on the challenge with a glimmer of hope rather than delusion. There are numerous articles using this term covering individuals to minority parties.

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There are several phrases that I might give, but few single words. I hope that one of them might suit the needs of the OP.

If someone is showing dogged, naive determination in the face of political opposition, he might be referred to Mr. Smith, from the movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In this 1939 Frank Capra movie, the title character played by Jimmie Stewart fights political corruption because of his conviction and personality. (However, I think current audiences would more readily go to a character in The Matrix.)

A word for such a fighter might be naive.

If someone is showing noble determination but is unaware of the true nature of the political opposition, he might be referred to as Quixotic, as mentioned by Josh61. The task that the person is involved in may be called Tilting at Windmills.

The task that someone is engaged in might be called a fool's errand which the Free dictionary calls

an attempt to do something that has no chance of success

A single word for this might be foolhardy.

Someone who is fighting against a faceless bureaucracy and failing may be told, You can't fight city hall.

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  • Lol +1 for foolhardy. Nice out of the box thinking :) – dwjohnston Jul 7 '15 at 5:23

A person who is not allowed to vote is disenfranchised.

The term has broadened in meaning to refer to those who do not have a realistic voice / influence in say society. People who vote for a party which ends up with 12.6% of the votes but 0.15% of the seats in Parliament are disenfranchised in this broader sense.

disenfranchise verb

To disenfranchise is defined as to take away someone's right to vote or to deprive someone of power, rights and privileges.

When certain segments of the population are deprived of their right to vote or of a position of power in society, this is an example of a time when you disenfranchise that segment of society.


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  • disenfranchised doesn't capture the subject's will to fight – dwjohnston Jul 7 '15 at 5:08

I think grassroots might capture what you're looking for.

A grassroots movement or organisation is one that is organised from 'the ground up' rather than being dictated to from the top down, as would be the case for a traditional organisation with formal hierachical power structures.


My skating buddies and I organised a grassroots resistance against the council's anti-skating bylaws. At nighttime we went around putting up posters urging people to resist the by laws.

The Potplant Liberation Front was a grassroots organisation. Its members were mostly part time volunteers who offered their time in the weekends.

The party was organised in a very grassroots manner. Steve brought his sound system along, Joe had some spare tables in his garage, and Sue was always up for showing off her baking skills.

Good examples of real world grassroots organisations would be the Animal Liberation Front (who conduct criminal activity, and so by necessity do not have a centralised power structure) or Food Not Bombs, who tends to organise locally at a city by city level.

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