We have a controversy unfurling before our very eyes. It seems many people aren’t too keen about the three final city of Tulsa flag designs they’ve been invited to vote on.

Even former Mayor Dewey Bartlett has taken to Facebook to express his dislike for the three options.

Similar sentiments abound on other social media formats, often in the form of snarky putdowns or flailing attempts at humor.

Here’s the question: Do those critical posts and Tweets represent a majority of the responses to the flag designs, or are they simply aberrations that come with the territory?

Jacob Johnson and Joey Wignarajah are casting their votes for the latter. The duo should know: They are the people behind the Tulsa Flag campaign, and they’ve got numbers they’d have you believe show the positive vibes surrounding the campaign are much stronger than the negative vibes.

As of Friday — just two days after the final designs were presented to the City Council — nearly 6,000 people had cast votes for their favorite design – far exceeding Johnson’s and Wignarajah’s expectations. Nearly 30,000 people have watched the campaign’s promotional video.

“The reality is, we got a ton of votes that way outweigh the quantity (of the negative comments), it just doesn’t feel like it because it is not out there for the public to see,” Johnson said. “We are trying to remind everyone involved in the campaign that our goal was 5,000 votes total, and we got it at week’s end. So from that side, we’re very excited.”

Johnson and Wignarajah said they expected the pushback, and although they can live with it, they do feel bad for the designers who created the flag designs.

“It is definitely the designers who I hope are not reading the comments,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Wignarajah are reading them, and they are happy to comment back.

They have no problem with those people who say they don’t like any of the flag designs. Folks are entitled to their opinions, they say.

They are not so understanding of those who argue that the flags are bad because one can’t tell at first glance that the designs represent Tulsa.

“That is just flat wrong. Any new symbol is going to have to have an association built with the thing it represents,” Johnson said.

Joey Wignarajah, left, and Jacob Johnson, right, have created a project seeking to redo Tulsa’s flag. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Some critics of the flag design finalists say the existing flag is better. Johnson and Wignarajah disagree, noting that most people did not even know what the existing city flag looked like before the Tulsa Flag campaign began.

“Then they go look at it, and then they say, ‘We don’t want to change it,’” Wignarajah said. “So it’s not so much about how much they love the flag, it’s just sort of a resistance to us trying to do something new.”

He added: “If it were a good flag, people would be wearing it on T-shirts and they would be flying it outside their house and they would be proud of it.”

Is there another flag design that could have made the final cut? Johnson and Wignarajah say yes. Are there three other designs that could have been finalists? Of course.

But the Tulsa Flag organizers believe there would have been just as many people quick to criticize those designs. And simply adding more choices wouldn’t have reduced the number of critical comments, they say.

“Orlando took 10 (flag designs) to the public and still got trashed on Facebook,” Wignarajah said.

What some people fail to recognize, Johnson and Wignarajah say, is that there was an extensive, formal process for creating the flag designs that included a requirement that the flags meet national design standards. Those standards set limits on how and how many symbols and colors can be used on a flag.

Flag design principles call not only for the use of symbols, but that those symbols be used in the simplest way possible so that they can be recognized from a long distance, Johnson said.

Take the city of Chicago’s flag.

City of Chicago flag design

“Chicago just got ranked the best and most recognizable city flag in the country,” Wignarajah said. “It’s just red stars with two sky blue bars on it.”

The Tulsa Flag campaign, which is privately funded, was undertaken to create a city flag that Tulsans not only would embrace but could use as a branding tool on everything from T-shirts to jerseys to stickers to hats. Or flags.

The existing city flag is the city seal, which is copyrighted, meaning it cannot be used by private individuals or private companies for commercial use. It is also, critics assert, not very interesting or inspiring.

The Tulsa Flag campaign began by asking the public to submit suggestions as to what historical events, places, things and themes best represent the city. The campaign received 600 responses, which in Phase 2 of the project were shared online with anyone who wanted to create a flag design. Nearly 400 designs were submitted. A panel of seven, which included an artist, an art historian, a designer, an architect and a print maker — none of whom were affiliated with the Tulsa Flag campaign — then selected the final three.

Many of the people criticizing the final designs aren’t aware of that process, Johnson said.

“It takes four seconds to type one of those (negative) comments and you don’t ever have to worry about it again,” he said.

If the backlash over the flag designs has created any real concern, Johnson said, it has to do with how it might affect young people thinking about trying to make a difference in their communities. People like his nephew, whom Johnson described as “bummed for his uncle.”

“And I didn’t want him to be, because the last thing I wanted was for him to see this kind of outpouring and him in the future, when he comes across a problem worth solving, not do it…,” Johnson said. “Because the reality is, if you’re not up against the wall, if you’re not getting some kind of pushback, you’re probably not doing something that really has a chance to make an impact.”

Otherwise, the fellows responsible for the Tulsa Flag campaign and the social media firestorm it has created are doing just fine.

“That’s the nature of Facebook and the nature of this public forum,” Johnson said. “More than anything, we hope that people can realize that there is a lot of positive energy, they just can’t see it because it’s not as visible as negative energy.”

Voting for the Tulsa Flag campaign will run until at least May 10. To participate, text A, B, or C for the corresponding design you wish to vote for to 918-376-5690.