Sometimes a Rock is Just a Rock

A healthy democracy and robust civil society know that there is a time and place for activism. This rock isn’t the place.

Psychologist Sigmund Freud once said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Speaking as a student activist and Democratic campaign employee, sometimes a rock should just be a rock.

The rock in question sits facing East-West Highway and has long been a fixture of B-CC culture. B-CC lore claiming that the rock had been lifted from Whitman and deposited at the front of our school after a particularly lively sports night has cemented its place as one of the hallmarks of school tradition.

The rock was slathered with paint to commemorate graduations, athletic achievements, or just whenever a group of students felt like we had done something that merited a fresh coat. But for the past two years, the rock’s paint has borne a message other than jubilation.

The civil unrest of 2020, resulting from senseless police murders of African Americans across the country, changed much. Nearly every aspect of our social landscape was mobilized in an attempt to bring police reform. The rock, previously coated with a celebratory blue following graduation, was repainted with the names of murdered African Americans.

The political goals of this change are admirable. They aren’t the issue.

The Finlandization of students’ minds, whereby students are compelled to outwardly express common political ideals despite differing internal opinions, is concerning. It can be partially attributed to the politicization of non-political facets of everyday life, like the rock. Simply put, people should have communal spaces and traditions that are exempt from the polarization of politics.

People should feel comfortable expressing their own political opinions honestly and fully. Government-run institutions, like schools, should not tacitly or actively endorse political perspectives. Reducing a long-held tradition to a performative political act is a bad decision.

A B-CC junior* who once made the mistake of sitting on the rock recalls being told to “get the f*ck off the rock” and “you’re racist for sitting on it.” In my interview with this student, they asked to remain anonymous because they were worried they would be labeled racist. Why? Stripping the rock of all of its storied tradition and assumed political might, it is approximately three feet tall, sturdy, and conveniently located near where most students congregate during lunch. It’s a perfect place to sit.

Perhaps turning a chair into a memorial-slash-political-performance-piece in the vicinity of irreverent high school students takes away from the message somewhat. The bottom line? We’ve lost too many pieces of culture to increasing political polarization. A healthy democracy and robust civil society know that there is a time and place for activism. This rock isn’t the place.