As President Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address, one guest — or lack thereof — has gotten attention for the heartbreaking losses it represents. The president has left one seat in the first lady’s box empty to represent lives lost to gun violence in the United States. The move has been making ripples in social media, and in the hours before the debate, a new hashtag is circulating on Twitter. Families who have lost loved ones to gun violence are tweeting images of the empty seats in their own homes under the hashtag #EmptySeat. The images — some of actual empty chairs, others of the family members or friends who have been lost — are hauntingly tragic.
Lucia McBath, who is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network, lost her own child to gun violence. In 2012, her son Jordan Davis was killed in a parking lot in Florida during an argument over loud music. She’s seen many of his empty chairs since then, including at his high school graduation. “Jordan’s father and I went to his high school graduation,” she told Refinery29 by phone. “That will always be in my heart, that I had to receive my child’s high school diploma because of his empty chair. Because he was murdered and is no longer with us.” One person gone leaves a hole in hundreds of lives. Davis’ death left an empty chair not just at his graduation, but also in his home, in his school, and in his friendships. “When he died, when he was murdered, the whole classroom [in his favorite music class] had an empty chair,” McBath said. His classmates hung it with a sign that read “Jordan’s Chair.” The death of Jordan Davis is only one tragedy of many. "My empty chair story is one of thousands of empty chair stories around the country," McBath said. On January 5, she stood behind President Obama as he announced his planned executive actions for gun control. “These actions would not have saved my son," McBath said. "But it goes beyond just saving Jordan’s life. There are 88 Americans in this country every single day that are dying." Refinery29 will be live streaming tonight's State of the Union address. You can watch it with us here.