Check out this Slate piece
on the Israeli Pilots who are refusing to to fly missions in the West Bank and Gaza. Regardless of whether one agrees with Avishai (I'm not sure I finally do), anyone can find his writing and reasoning highly impressive: he moves through the issues quickly without oversimplifying them, looks at several different ethical principles at once instead of overcondensing the problem to just one, cites some hard numbers and history, and still manages to work in some moving and telling rhetorical flourishes.
I think he gets to the crux of the matter, and the nut of that principle which most people working towards a social reform against the majority will of their society must hold dear. More than nonviolence, it's what I think is truly essential to Gandhi's philosophy. The individual always has the ability to oppose society's dictates, and if their conscience impells them to defy society--even a democratically, legally organized society--the individual is sacrificing their status as a law-abiding citizen for their conscience and the principle they are taking a stand on. That sacrifice will ring out and make a statement to a society which is prepared to listen. Nonviolent sacrifice in the face of violent oppression is often capable of making a statement to a society even when it isn't prepared to listen. But a real democracy should always be prepared to listen.
It's true that oftentimes protesters will generically defy society without much thought or care, and their loss of law-abiding status isn't really a sacrifice at all. That might be called arrogant. But I think it's important to recognize those who are in fact giving up something significant, and making difficult decisions, and to then recognize the weight that difficulty gives to their opinions. Instead of deeming them arrogant, I remember the over-quoted words of Mario Savio's
famous speech outside my
alma mater. They may be over quoted, but they're still true:
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! "