It’s Friday night, and though Dave and I are the only full Asians in the room, we are the only ones with our shoes still on. The wall facing the street is made almost entirely of glass, and though anyone passing by in the street can see us clearly beneath the Christmas lights hanging over us, we can barely see each other – me and my Guiness, him and his PBR.
This is the second time I’ve seen Dave today. The first was when I picked him up from the county jail.
“Dave got exciting this year,” says Koji, our friend who happened to visit Davis with his girlfriend the same weekend 52 arrests were made for protesting the UC fee hikes past Mrak Hall’s business hours.
This is not the Dave we knew. The Dave we knew rolled his own stoges to save money for the two liters of Mountain Dew he used to drink daily in high school.
But instead of the usual Friday night post-graduate blues, Neo-Dave’s stories about spending the night in jail automatically trump any witty story we come up with about how we hate our bosses.
“The whole thing was surreal,” Dave says.
What’s surreal is how mundane this whole experience has been so far, from the phone call I made asking if I could reschedule lunch because I had to pick up my friends from jail, to the muffins and Kirkland water bottles the protesters who waited in the parking lot overnight served to the inmates.
When I drove him home and picked up his things, Dave had surprisingly little to say about the night. Right after we got off the 113, Dave got a text from Laura, who also spent the night in jail, telling him they needed to go straight to the protest on the quad – they couldn’t waste any time. Dave shrugged and asked if I could give him a ride there because he didn’t want to bike in the rain.
He says when he walked out of Mrak Hall that night, when the police had him handcuffed, when 20 riot polices lined the walkway to the police van like knights guarding a procession, when the Red Sea of protestors were screaming for him on either side – it wasn’t him walking, but rather someone he was watching.
I take a sip of my beer and ask him why he chose to get arrested.
“My friend Josh said I had a choice whether or not to get arrested, and he asked why I chose to.” Dave replies, “I told him ‘to be honest, I don’t know how to answer that question.'”
That morning, he told me he wondered if people would be pissed at him because he hadn’t been a student at UC Davis for six months now. I told him it’s important people who aren’t directly affected by the fee increases continue to protest.
Now, he tells me he wonders if it was the wave of peer pressure that got him arrested, if that moment of linking arms against the police swept him into the van. I tell him peer pressure is authentic, because he understands the communal consequences and he’s responding to it.
What surprises me is that he’s the only one I’ve talked to who’s doubted his intentions in getting arrested. I’m surprised because I know Dave fully understands the sociological consequences of the fee hikes – that they cut off access from lower income families, many whom are minorities. That corporatizing the UCs changes equal opportunity into customers buying a product if they can find the resources to get it.
“One thing that pissed me off was right when I got back, the first thing Rob asked me was if I thought getting arrested got me closer to Laura,” Dave says about his ex.
Earlier that day Rob argued with his girlfriend, who also got arrested the night before; he thinks protests create mob mentality.
“It kills me to think that we could have had something to do with it.” Dave says. He tells me that, before Laura got arrested, he asked her if they could “talk about us,” and she replied “What about?”
I tell him that it’s fine to have more than one reason to do things, but at this point I’m running out of answers. Each time I say something to try and solidify his convictions, he doesn’t reply. And his eyes shift to the side.
I do this because I continually question why I chose not to get arrested. I doubt my sincerity in almost everything I do: from the student protests and being a design major, to writing Asian-American fiction and Christianity. That’s the only form of authenticity I can come up with: incorrigible skepticism.
I look at Dave, who isn’t making eye contact with me, and I try to think of anything I can say to give Dave a conviction. I need Dave to know why he got arrested. Dave, I need you to know.
GEOFF MAK wants to thank Dave for allowing me to put his personal life on blast. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know what you thought about this.