At tonight's State of the Union, there'll be an empty seat. Here's why.

Of the many guests President Obama and the first lady will invite to the State of the Union, one stands out.

It was the first guest announced, and it's arguably the most important, and sadly relatable, guest an administration has ever played host to. That guest is, of course, the empty seat, representing those who've been lost to gun violence.


Since the announcement, families of gun violence victims and survivors have rallied around the hashtag #EmptySeat, using it to express the feeling of loss that comes along with losing loved ones to gun violence.


"It's terrifyingly easy to buy a gun without a background check in far too many states." — Lucy McBath, mother of 17-year-old shooting victim Jordan Davis

Some of the families sharing their stories lost loved ones in highly publicized mass shootings.

Such as Dave Sanders, a teacher who was gunned down trying to save students during the attack at Columbine High School.


Or 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who was shot and killed in the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook.


"#EmptySeat is an expression of our daily anguish and grief for our loved ones stolen or affected by gun violence," Caren Teves told Upworthy in an email. She lost her 24-year-old son Alex Teves in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting that killed 12 and injured 70 in July 2012.

"It is a public outcry to demand Congressional action, as well as thanking President Obama for his executive actions."


People visit a memorial across the street from the Aurora, Colorado, theater where James Holmes opened fire on a crowd. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Lucy McBath — whose son Jordan Davis was 17 years old when he was shot and killed at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in an argument over loud music back in November 2012 — is also sadly familiar with the symbolism of the empty chair.

"At what should have been Jordan's high school graduation, his classmates left a seat open for him. His music teacher kept a chair open in class," McBath told Upworthy over email.

"To honor Jordan's memory, I've made it my life mission to help prevent other families from going through the pain of having a loved one taken by senseless gun violence."

Others are using the #EmptySeat hashtag to honor the many victims of gun violence whose stories we'll never hear.

This woman's uncle who died by suicide.


Or those who've had their weapons used against them.



A quick look through the hashtag can be absolutely heart-wrenching — so keep that in mind before you check it out. It provides a very real, very human look at loss, mourning, and the true cost of violence.

It's those stories — the ones we'd never otherwise hear — that make the #EmptySeat hashtag so powerful.

Regardless where you stand on gun control, it's clear that something needs to change.

Unfettered access to guns is not a sound policy position, nor was it the founders' intent when crafting the Second Amendment (that whole "well-regulated" part is pretty important). The overwhelming majority of Americans support mandatory background checks on all gun purchases. So why can't we make that happen?

"It's terrifyingly easy to buy a gun without a background check in far too many states," says McBath. "There is so much more we can do to keep guns out of dangerous hands. ... It's time for elected leaders in states across the country to close the loopholes that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns."

A memorial is set up in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood on Sept. 8, 2015. Nine were shot and killed over Labor Day weekend. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Standing by while people, like those remembered by friends and family with the #EmptySeat hashtag, continue to lose their lives to gun violence is not an option.

Platitudes like "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" do nothing to stem the ongoing loss of life. Placing blame on people with mental illness is neither fair nor effective at cutting down on violence. The fact is that the vast majority of people involved in shootings are not mentally ill.

While the executive actions laid out by President Obama are a start, they don't (and they can't) completely close the loophole that allows people to buy and sell guns without performing background checks at gun shows and via private sale. For this type of real, concrete change to happen, Congress needs to take action.

We need to do something. We don't need any more empty seats.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Most of us did some tumbling moves as kids, from somersaults to cartwheels. A chosen few could pull off more impressive moves, like handsprings and backflips. But guaranteed, no kid that any of us knew could do anything close to the feats 5-year-old Li Jiamin can do.

A video of Li doing 80 back handsprings in under a minute (some people counted 82—it's really hard to keep track without making yourself dizzy) has gone viral, with more than a million views on Twitter alone.

At first, you might assume it's a looped video (I know I did). But watch the way the wrinkles build up in the side and top of the mattress. If there's a loop in there somewhere, it doesn't account for most of the flips, and when you see what else Li can do, the feat becomes a whole lot more believable.

Keep Reading Show less
True

2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.