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UPDATE: 50,000 protest against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington today

It was a massive and vibrant #ForwardOnClimate protest today in Washington, DC, with an estimated 50,000 people present. Families with small children, Occupy, First Nations, young people, and a broad cross-section of people were here to send a clear message to President Obama – reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Speakers included 350.org founder Bill McKibben, former presidential adviser Van Jones, Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation in British Columbia, and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation in Alberta.

Initially, it was believed that 35,000 people were present, but 350.org organizer Joshua Kahn Russell writes this afternoon, “Earlier numbers announced were low – after aerial shots, official estimate of #ForwardOnClimate rally is 50,000 people.”

European and US coverage
Agence France Presse reports, “Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Washington Sunday to generate pressure on President Barack Obama to take concrete measures to fight global warming. Waving banners and signs with slogans like ‘What will be your climate legacy?’ the protesters called on Obama to reject the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada to Texas…”

Bloomberg notes, “Organizers said 35,000 people from across the country attended the rally in Washington, held in biting winds and near-freezing temperatures. …Protesters filled an area on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, carrying signs urging Obama to reject the pipeline. …After a series of speeches from organizers, protesters marched in a column around the White House, where they stopped to chant ‘We are unstoppable; another world is possible’. They stood along 15th Street, east of the White House, holding placards that were black on one side to symbolize the pipeline.” CNN adds, “Marching, dancing and poster-waving environmentalists chanting ‘Hey, Obama. We don’t want no climate drama’, packed several blocks on and around Washington’s National Mall on Sunday…”

Canadian media
And while today’s protest was at least four times larger than the 12,000 that gathered at the #SurroundTheWhiteHouse action in November 2011, you would think from reports by Canada’s mainstream media that today’s protest had fizzled.

With a headline reading ‘Fewer protesters than expected at D.C. rally against Keystone pipeline’, the Globe and Mail reports, “A few thousand environmental activists braved chilly winds to gather on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Sunday…” The Canadian Press was little better reporting, “Thousands of people have gathered in Washington today to urge U.S. President Barack Obama to make good on his recent promises to combat climate change. TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline project is the rally’s most popular whipping boy.”

In advance of today’s protest, the Financial Post had reported, “It will be a lively President’s Day long weekend for the folks here at the Canadian embassy. …Embassy staff plan to be on the sidelines to hear what’s said up the street on Pennsylvania Avenue and do their own count of the protesters.” And the Globe and Mail had noted, “On Sunday, the White House will be watching. Officials will not just be counting crowds assembled on the Mall and marching to within sight of the Oval Office, but also seeing whether the protest galvanizes national media coverage.”

It feels like most Canadian media was intent on downplaying the turnout for today’s rally.

The one exception appears to be the Toronto Star. Washington Bureau Chief Mitch Potter writes, “Canada’s carbon-intensive oilsands industry was the guest of dishonour in Washington on Sunday, where the largest in a series of nationwide climate rallies demanded President Barack Obama call a halt to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Though precise numbers were in dispute — organizers claimed upwards of 50,000 supporters, with other media assessments suggesting half as many — activists appeared to have met their target of achieving the country’s largest-ever climate rally.”

That article adds, “Among those who travelled to Sunday’s rally was a delegation from the Ottawa-based Council of Canadians. They’ve been here before for similar demonstrations, but Sunday’s, they said, showed the issue is gaining fresh traction. ‘I think the biggest difference is that President Obama doesn’t have to win another election,’ said Council of Canadians spokesman Brent Patterson (referring to the president’s decision in November 2011 to delay his decision until after the November 2012 election). ‘Obama’s pledge to act on climate change, together with the turnout today, makes all of the Canadian government lobbying efforts ring hollow. This pressure is rising and Keystone is at the heart of it.'”