In the roughly year-and-a-half since two Tulsans announced a plan to replace Tulsa’s flag with a new design, their efforts have been successful beyond even their most far-fetched expectations.
Dozens of businesses have created merchandise, ranging from shirts to shot glasses, to tiny little gnomes.
Even some of Tulsa’s most prominent professional sports teams have gotten in on the act. The city’s USL soccer team, the Tulsa Roughnecks, wear a Tulsa Flag patch on their jerseys and sell Roughnecks-themed flag merchandise in the team store.
The Tulsa Drillers, a Los Angeles Dodgers-affiliated minor league baseball team, took it a step further, announcing “918 Nights” this summer. The team designed new flag-themed jerseys and hats they will wear on the field July 5-9.
The flags are flying across the city — and world: Joey Wignarajah, part of the group who hatched the idea of replacing Tulsa’s old flag proudly shows off images taken of the flag in Japan, the Gobi Desert, Barcelona, even the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Even some local political campaigns have adopted the flag — John Waldron, a Tulsa teacher, has used the flag in some designs while running for House District 77. Daniel Regan, a local City Council candidate, also uses the flag in his campaign.
“I’d say at this point we have exceeded even our wildest expectations,” Wignarajah said. “It’s one of those things where we thought it was a good idea and we thought people would enjoy it, but it has really taken hold at a level beyond what we thought was possible. It’s really everywhere.”
And yet the one place it’s not flying is maybe the most peculiar — City Hall.
The original plan, dreamed up in 2016, was to privately fund a redesign contest of Tulsa’s flag (currently just a copyrighted image of the city’s seal,) where three top selections would compete against each other until a public vote.
The winner would be brought to a vote by the City Council at some point last summer, and the council would officially adopt the flag.
But the plan hit a snag.
There was public backlash when the three finalists were announced — it turned out some people just didn’t like any of the options. That reticence trickled down to the City Council, and many of the members — some of whom the Tulsa Flag group assumed would vote in favor of the flag — suddenly began to distance themselves from the effort.
In the end, it was never put to a vote, and some councilors told The Frontier last year that had it been, the flag would have failed.
Where are we now?
Perhaps sensing the increasing shyness at the city level, flag supporters quickly began to produce merchandise and the Tulsa Flag group began to promote the winning design.
Almost instantly, the flag took hold.
“When we hit that friction, we decided to focus on the fun part,” Wignarajah said. “Adoption by Tulsans is what makes it a city flag. I think our original timelines was that we would get the winner and get it passed and let it go do its thing. We had to adjust significantly when the it became clear the City Council wasn’t going to pass it.”
“We hope the city will act on it. But our attention has been focused on just getting it out there.”
To illustrate just how far “out there” it has gotten, Wignarajah showed off a slideshow of the flag in different locations or on different types of merchandise. There’s pictures of a baby wearing the flag, of the flag above a number of garages, or on beer cans or on clothes and hats promoting a local elementary school.
Does any of that make it closer to becoming Tulsa’s official flag? Not necessarily. The Frontier reached out to all nine City Councilors for comments about the flag and its possible future. Only two — Blake Ewing and Ben Kimbro, both ardent flag supporters — responded.
“I think we should have adopted it back then,” said Ewing, who is not seeking re-election to his council seat later this year. “I think it’s never too late, and this council gets to be the ones who did it, or they can watch the next council do it.
“Just make it official. There was all this talk, like ‘Have another contest and include the (current flag) as an option.’ It’s just stupid. It’s done, this is the flag.”
Kimbro said he was “still stridently in favor” of adopting the new flag design.
“It seems evident from the positive reaction that Tulsan’s have had to it, they do too,” Kimbro said in an email. “You may see another push for adoption from the Council later this summer. Fingers crossed, some of the Councilors that supported and then later reversed their decision will have seen the popularity of this.”
“For us, it’s always been about getting the people to adopt (the flag) more so than getting the City Council to adopt it,” Wignarajah said. “The council could adopt it like our current flag, and if people don’t use it, it doesn’t matter. It’s pretty clear that Tulsa has adopted it.”