InterVIEW – Dan Onorato – Modesto Peace Life Center

With Friendship Comes Understanding
Interview with Modesto Peace Life Center’s Dan Onorato
By Abigail Murphy

This year has brought uncertainties and unknowns to say the least, but the moments we are living now help remind us to look to understand each other, listen to each other, and find ways to make our community and world a better place. The Modesto Peace Life Center, founded in 1970, is celebrating 50 years of activism, community outreach, and peace-making and we sat down with one of the founding members, Dan Onorato to learn more about the meaningful organization.
Dan Onorato, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, moved to Modesto in 1969 after completing his Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley and accepting a job to teach English at MJC. In February of 1970, Dan was invited to a meeting to discuss the creation of a “one year long” center that would focus on non-violent community engagement and draft counseling in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and in the midst of the Vietnam War. The meeting was comprised of a diverse group of locals: MJC students and staff, conscientious objectors, concerned citizens, and representatives from local religious groups that all wanted to help others in our community and encourage positive change during such a tumultuous time. Within a month, they found an old building at 15th & G Street, aptly referred to within the group as the “Leaning Tower of Modesto” that would be the first home of the Modesto Peace Life Center.
Initially, the center was a place where young people could go for draft counseling. Dan said the point of the counseling was not to “get people out of the war”, but rather to provide guidance for those to help establish their convictions and – if they felt strongly enough about their pacifist convictions – help them get conscientious objector status. Over the first two years, they counseled and welcomed 600 people at the Peace Life Center. The day the draft turned into the lottery system, they had 100 people come for counseling and guidance in a single day. As the years went on and needs changed during the 1970s, Dan recalls the Center advocating starting to advocate for other issues such as environmental protections and peaceful foreign affairs. When I asked Dan how the Modesto Peace Life Center has decided which issues to take on and what has motivated them over the last 50 years, Dan explained “as needs arise, we face them”. The horizontal nature of the Peace Life Center means that the issues they address often are personal passions and convictions of one of the members that the whole team rallies around to support. Dan says it’s wonderfully “lucky that [the members] are all in a place and space” of understanding the importance of listening, non-violence, and compromise when it comes to planning both educational and activist events in the community.
Through this collaboration and listening over the years, the Modesto Peace Life Center has started and cultivated many cornerstone events and traditions in the community. As a young woman who grew up in the educational system in Modesto, I have fond memories of the programs and events that the center has both started and supported such as the Peace Essay Contest, the Monthly Peace Vigil, Peace Camp, and the Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration. The Peace Essay Contest, started in 1987, is a prompt that is sent to all schools to pose questions to young people about how to solve world issues, both big and small, with non-violent solutions. The Monthly Peace Vigil is one of my favorites! When I was in high school, it was the first Wednesday of every month, and we would peacefully gather on the corner at Five Points with signs advocating for peace and equality in our community and around the world. While Peace Camp is an annual event in the Sierras at Camp Peaceful Pines that has hosted workshops, nature walks, crafts, and mindfulness practices every summer for the last 38 years!
Lastly, but definitely not least, is the Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration that has taken place for the last 26 years. Dan says it’s one of the Peace Life Center’s proudest achievements with the amount of interest, engagement, and reverence it brings to our community each year. With help from the City of Modesto and the support of MJC, they have brought many civil rights activists and educators to Modesto to discuss racism, inequality, and to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Each year, a speaker is brought to give an evening talk at MJC’s packed full Performing Arts & Media Center. Before the talk, however, the speaker spends the afternoon talking with students at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center. It was at this student-focused event in 2013 where I, along with many other young adults, was lucky enough to meet, listen to, and learn from John Lewis himself! For 26 years the commemoration has brought people like Yolanda King, daughter of Dr. King, Diane Nash, Bob Moses, Taylor Branch, Dolores Huerta, Danny Glover, Andrew, and many more.
Today, the Peace Life Center, though adjusting to the new normal in a pandemic, still has many goals and projects that they are passionate about working on this year. They launched their own radio station KCBP Radio at 95.5 FM in 2017 with a group of volunteers to “highlight what’s local in music and the arts” to “enrich our community and region with unique programming that serves our local needs and interests”. If you would like to volunteer and even if you would like to create a radio program of your own, please visit www.KCBPradio.org/volunteer<www.KCBPradio.org/volunteer> ! Given the hyper polarized environment we live in today, one of the main goals of the Peace Life Center that Dan communicated is the importance of listening and attempting to understand one another. Even when we disagree or seem to have opposite opinions on nearly everything, the Peace Life Center wants to remind everyone to listen to one another and to spread compassion. After all, “with friendship comes understanding”.
For 50 years, the Modesto Peace Life Center has been there for the community through wars, international conflicts, recessions, environmental disasters, social movements, and national tragedies and does its best to help where possible and give voices to those who can best represent and promote non-violent, intersectional change. We thank the Modesto Peace Life Center for all that you have done and brought to this community over the half century. Congratulations on your milestone birthday and we wish you all the best of luck in the next 50 years! (Lastly, in true ModestoView fashion, we had to ask Dan: “Beatles or Stones?”. We could have guessed it, but Dan is in “Camp Beatles” just like me)

If you would like to donate and learn more about the Modesto Peace Life Center, please visit: www.peacelifecenter.org<www.peacelifecenter.org>

The Modesto Peace/Life Center is dedicated to promoting nonviolent solutions locally to societal and global issues. We are a non-profit 501(c)(3) non-sectarian educational and activist organization welcoming all who share our vision. We work to nurture a “Beloved Community,” in which people of all races, nationalities, religious beliefs, and genders live in harmony to create a more peaceful, just, and environmentally healthy world.

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.