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.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
True

Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.