Tierney Cahill wanted to teach her sixth-grade students a lesson about politics, and along the way she learned a powerful lesson about fearlessness.
Her own, and her students'.
Cahill, 41, ran for Congress in Reno, Nev., in 2000. She did it to teach her sixth-grade civics class anyone could run for public office. She also found courage within herself when her task seemed overwhelming.
“I always had to remember that kids are watching, and it's really important that they see someone being brave,” she said. “We ask them to be brave all the time.”
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Cahill, who's been teaching for 19 years, beat an ex-con in the Democratic primary, but she lost the general election. She wrote a memoir, “Ms. Cahill for Congress,” about the experience, and Halle Berry is slated to star in the film “Class Act,” based on the story, according to Cahill's publicist.
Cahill will speak at UNC Charlotte 's McKnight Hall in the Cone Center at 7 tonight. The event is free.
For Cahill and the people she inspired, losing the election was irrelevant because she proved her point. She wasn't wealthy. She had no political connections. She was a teacher, a waitress on the weekends and a single mother of three.
No one expected her to win more than 10 percent of the vote in the general election, she said. She was taking on incumbent Republican Jim Gibbons in a mostly Republican state. His campaign budget was $320,000 compared with her $7,000 budget.
Gibbons (now Nevada's governor) had a campaign staff. Cahill's staff? Her sixth-grade students at Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School.
The students didn't receive a grade for participating, and their parents signed a permission slip. The students scheduled news interviews, stops on the chicken-dinner circuit and fundraisers.
“They were in charge. They were so empowered,” Cahill said. “I was just amazed about how seriously they took it. …Those kids still to this day are so involved, and they're just fearless.”