Speak Out was founded in 1990 as part of the non-profit Institute for Social and Cultural Change which included the progressive publishing house South End Press and Z Magazine. Initially, Speak Out was a way to showcase South End Press authors like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Martinez, Winona LaDuke, among others.

Founder Jean Caiani brought to the work her experience in organizing speaking tours for former CIA agent and whistleblower Philip Agee as well as her years with the United Farms Workers Union where she coordinated tours for Ceasar Chavez.

Within several years, it became clear the Speak Out was fullfilling an incredible need by providing progressive speakers in the campus arena and there was growth in the roster - from the initial handful to dozens of speakers, scholars,  performing and visual artists, exhibits and films. Speak Out organized hundreds of lectures and performances each year on campuses nationwide.

Speak Out eventually went on to establish its own 501(c)3 non-profit status as the Institute for Democratic Education and Culture, with an educational mission to educate, inspire and empower young people to become actively engaged in society and to work for social justice.

The organization's work expanded into new areas as well. Speak Out began publishing and distributing educational materials, curriculum, and diversity resources. With the establishment of an on-line store, Speak Out offered books, DVDs, CDs and other merchandise.

Speak Out also began to provide workshops, trainings and educational institutes to strengthen social justice organizing at high schools, colleges, universities, and in communities nationwide as well as organizing local events in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area where we are based.