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.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less
via Kim Kardashian West / Twitter

It's not hard for most people to make fun of the Kardashians. But this week it got even easier after Kim tweeted she took a birthday getaway to Tahiti with her friends and family — during a deadly pandemic.

"After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time," she tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Ah, the awkward joy of school picture day. Most of us had to endure the unnatural positioning, the bright light shining in our face, and the oddly ethereal backgrounds that mark the annual ritual. Some of us even have painfully humorous memories to go along with our photos.

While entertaining school picture day stories are common, one mom's tale of her daughter's not-picture-perfect school photo is winning people's hearts for a funny—but also inspiring—reason.

Jenny Albers of A Beautifully Burdened Life shared a photo of her daughter on her Facebook page, which shows her looking just off camera with a very serious look on her face. No smile. Not even a twinkle in her eye. Her teacher was apologetic and reassured Albers that she could retake the photo, but Albers took one look and said no way.

Keep Reading Show less
via Ted-Ed / YouTube

Trees are one of the most effective ways to fight back against climate change. Like all plants, trees consume atmospheric carbon through photosynthesis then store it in their wood tissue and in the surrounding soil.

They work as an organic vacuum to remove the billions of pounds of carbon dioxide that humans have dumped into the atmosphere over the past century.

So, if trees are going to be part of the war on climate change, what strategies should we use to make the best use of their amazing ability to repair the Earth? How can we be sure that after planting these trees they are protected and don't become another ecological victim of human greed?

Keep Reading Show less