More than 25,000 people from across the country strapped protest signs to hockey sticks, grabbed a hot Tim Hortons coffee, braved the cold and told Prime Minister Stephen Harper to "get back to work." Twenty-five thousand. Using what I heard from the protesters, reporters and bloggers on Twitter, that's my estimate of how many Canadians took to the streets today.
In ten years working on Parliament Hill, I've had a front-row seat to all kinds of mass gatherings and rarely do you see one this co-ordinated, this large and this unified. It takes a lot to make Canadians take to the streets in numbers worth noting.
People in Ottawa come to the front lawn of Parliament to commemorate, celebrate and to mourn. We line up by the hundreds to pay tribute to prime ministers who've passed away. Canada Day tests the number of Canucks you can squeeze into downtown Ottawa on one afternoon. Concerts and even a Much Music show or two have turned the lawn into a dance floor for thousands.
But, by far the most common reason for people to gather en masse on the Hill is to protest and that usually isn't that popular among Canadians. But something happened today: a lot of ordinary Canadians joined together across party and partisan lines to protest in support of their common belief.
Of all the thousands of people who have gathered on the Hill protesting countless causes, no single event has ever been driven to such an extent by the use of online communication tools as a means to connect, collaborate and organize opposition. Facebook is a high social capital network of friends and family. This is the motivator that drove hundreds in small towns across Canada to join larger protests in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.
Never before has Facebook filled Canada's streets. It did today. Friends and families reached out to one another to voice their collective disgust at a system that allows the Prime Minister to silence the voice of debate in the House of Commons on a whim.
From the thousands of Canadians across British Columbia to the near 10,000 people that amassed and marched through the streets of Toronto to the 150 who gathered in Antigonish and all the hundreds and hundreds in communities across the country in between - their voices were unified. Canada needs its House of Commons up and running.
Trevor Strong of the satirical band The Arrogant Worms addressed the crowd gathered on Parliament Hill before singing and said: "You know when I'm at a rally something has gone really wrong."
It seems a lot of other people thought so too.
And those 25,000 people, who know something has "gone really wrong" with the way their country is being run, used an online communications tool to manifest a real-world protest that - in Canadian terms - was extremely impressive.
Ian Capstick is co-owner of MediaStyle, a progressive media agency in Ottawa. He has worked for Liberal cabinet ministers and most recently spent several years as press secretary to the federal New DemocratsReport Typo/Error