Months before the effort got underway publicly in 2016, Joey Wignarajah, one of the ringleaders of the movement to create a new Tulsa flag, described the idea to a few acquaintances during an unrelated fundraising event.
The plan, as he described it from the beginning, seemed entirely backward from business as usual.
Wignarajah and his pals weren’t going to lobby elected officials to design and adopt a new flag, then hope that the public would embrace it.
They were going straight to the public first, asking Tulsans to participate in creating and choosing a design. Then and only then would elected officials need to approve it.
It was, in other words, a grand experiment in grass-roots democracy. Ordinary citizens saw a need and, instead of waiting for City Hall to act, took action themselves. People led, politicians followed.
Only it took the politicians awhile.
The City Council unanimously approved the flag last week, making it an official symbol of Tulsa. But the vote came more than a year after a handful of complaints spooked councilors away from approving the flag after its original presentation.
Undeterred, Tulsans embraced it anyway, with the flag showing up on T-shirts, coffee mugs and front porches all across the city.
Its popularity was helped along by the fact that the flag is public domain, meaning anyone anywhere can copy, modify, distribute and use it for free, even for commercial use, without asking permission.
No one is making a dime on it. In fact, Wignarajah and another key player, Jacob Johnson, poured $30,000 of their own cash into the project, and donors pitched in an equal amount, officials said. But they don’t own it.
The flag belongs to all of us now.
“The good thing about the way this worked out,” City Councilor Blake Ewing admitted last week, “is the public — the citizens themselves — have made a difference on their own.”