A wave of large-scale demonstrations from 2003 to 2006 has given rise to a new pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and raised important questions about the political activism of the Hong Kong public. This study aims at achieving a better understanding of the cultural underpinnings of Hong Kong people's protest participation (and non-participation). Following a tradition of constructivist analysis which sees culture as a set of shared and more or less structured ideas, symbols, feelings and common senses, this study examines how participants in the pro-democracy protests make sense of their experiences and the ongoing political and social changes in Hong Kong. It shows that the 1 July 2003 demonstration has indeed empowered many of its participants, but feelings of efficacy became more complicated and mixed as people continued to monitor changes in the political environment and interpret the actions of others. At the same time, beliefs and ideas that can be regarded as part of Hong Kong's culture of de-politicization remain prevalent among the protesters. The findings of the study allow us to understand why many Hong Kong people view protests as important means of public opinion expression and yet participate in them only occasionally.