But despite the fact that the pan-democrats’ terminology is the lingua franca of the movement, it’s clear that the movement itself is, for many people, hardly about liberal “democracy.” In fact, most discussions of what protestors actually want quickly jump into entirely different terrain. When asked what their goals are, many will respond with the parroted list of demands—this is incredibly consistent across social strata and different age groups. But when pressed about why they want these things, most protestors then immediately jump to economic, rather than purely political, problems.
People bemoan skyrocketing rents, the inhuman levels of inequality, inflation in the price of food and public transport, and the governments’ tendency to simply ignore the vast swaths of people sitting at the bottom of society. One speaker at an open mic made the common—if simply wrong—argument: “Why is Hong Kong just a couple of rich people and so many poor people?! Because we have no democracy!” Many claim—with abysmally poor awareness of how liberal democracies actually function in places like Greece or the United States—that once they are able to “choose” their own leaders these leaders will be able to fix widespread problems of inflation, poverty and financial speculation. Democracy has thereby come to designate less the practical application of a popular voting system and more a sort of elusive panacea, capable of somehow curing all social ills.